Why aren’t all wines vegan?

7 May

Some people assume that wine is just fermented grape juice, so of course it would be vegan.  The truth is that many wines use animal products somewhere in the production process.  The good news for vegans is that the trend seems to be towards other methods.  So why are animal products used in winemaking?  What are the animal products used?  What will replace them?

The most common use of animal products in wine making is in fining wines.  Fining wine has been around for hundreds of years.  After fermentation & racking the wine off the lees there are substances floating in the wine that are too small to see.  These molecules are called “colloids” and they carry either a positive or negative charge that keeps them from coming together, getting larger & becoming visible.  Some of the naturally occurring colloids with a negative charge are tannins, pectins, dextrans, & gluecans.  The positively charged colloids are colored phenolics & proteins.  If they stayed charged, they would stay invisible & wouldn’t be a problem.  Unfortunately, this charge fades over time (or with fluctuating temperature) & the molecules come together in a larger, visible, form.  The scientific name for this is flocculation. It can cause the wine to become cloudy or hazy after bottling.  The molecules are too small to be removed with a filter.  Fining is a simple method of putting something in the wine with the opposite charge to attract the colloids.  The molecules will flocculate & then sink to the bottom of the tank.  Then you can rack the clean wine off leaving the rest at the bottom of the tank.  You can also filter after fining if you want.  Fining wine removes colloids & makes the wine more stable.  It can also remove small particles in the wine to make it clearer.  It can also change the aroma, coloring, and/or flavor for better or worse.

There isn’t a health reason to fine wine.  The colloids are generally tasteless & pose no health threat. Fining is actually less necessary than it used to be.  Newer presses don’t leave as many leftovers from seeds, skins, & stems as old wooden presses (although they have a delicate touch with basket presses in Champagne).  These older wines had more likelihood of off aromas & flavors & made much hazier wine.  I mentioned earlier that temperature fluctuation can eliminate the charge for colloids.  With temperature-controlled tanks, this problem is significantly reduced. There definitely can be an economic reason for fining though.  This is particularly true of white wine.  The general public doesn’t want to buy a white wine that appears to have something from a lava lamp floating around in it.


fining images

Here’s a basic visual for how fining works


Here are the non-vegan methods of fining wine that are used (or have been used in the past).

Albumin/egg whites: Albumin is a simple protein that is soluble in water.  It is found in milk, blood, & egg whites. If you have low albumin levels, you might have liver disease.  If your levels are too high, you might have had a heart attack.  For wine, the albumin in egg whites is just right to remove astringency & tannin from wine.  Egg whites have frequently been used on some of the higher end barrel aged red wines.  It has been used in Bordeaux in cooler years when the tannins might be a bit green.  The process softens the wine.  This comes in dry form, but the common method is to use fresh egg whites mixed with a salt water solution.

Bull’s Blood:  Really!  Bull’s blood was used for centuries.  It was finally banned in the U.S. & the E.U. in 1997 due to fears of transmitting mad cow disease.  There was a scandal in the Rhone in 1999 when authorities seized 70,000 liters (18,492 gallons) of wine that had apparently been treated with bull’s blood.  They also seized 200 kilograms (440 pounds) worth of a dried concoction with bull’s blood.  These days the use has almost vanished since it can’t be sold into the largest markets, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some places in Eastern Europe or Asia who still use this technique.  If you have a classic Rioja from 25 years ago, there is a chance that it was fined this way.  If you have concerns about that, you should feel free to send me the wine & I will properly dispose of it…along with some lamb or duck.

Casein: This is a protein component of milk.  It is generally used to soften overly tannic reds, or to brighten & freshen whites that are showing oxidation.  There is a dry commercial version called potassium caseinate that is mixed with cold water & added to wine, but it is possible to just use skim milk. Casein is not allowed in kosher wine.

Chitosan: This is derived from shellfish, so it isn’t kosher & it theoretically could be a problem for people with shellfish allergies despite that fact that the wine is racked off & none of the fining agent should remain.  This is a gentle way to fine white wine while removing suspended solids along the way.  It is used in conjunction with Kieselsol (negatively charged fining agent made from silicon dioxide which comes from quartz) so that it doesn’t strip flavor.

Gelatin: In red wines, gelatin clarifies wine & significantly reduces tannin.  It is more of a sledgehammer compared to egg whites’ jeweler’s hammer.

Its made from hooves

In white wines it is mixed with Kieselsol to reduce bitter taste, generally caused by tannins.  If you use it by itself, it will strip flavor from white wines.  The problem here is as Mr. Burns said on the Simpson’s “It’s made from hooves you know.”  There are now some vegan versions produced & PVPP generally has taken its place.

Isinglass: This is technically another gelatin, but in this case, it is prepared from the air bladders of sturgeons or similar fish.  It won’t work on particularly cloudy wine.  Instead it is used to give a final “polish” to wine.  It can brighten up oak aged white wines.  This isn’t allowed in kosher wine.

Here are some vegan friendly fining agents.

Activated carbon: Used to remove unwanted odors from wine.  The trick here is not to absorb the pleasant aromas from wine.  It also can remove color from wine.  This isn’t a particularly common agent for fine wine making.

Bentonite: This is probably the most commonly used fining agent.  There are different names for it, but it is a volcanic clay discovered near Benton Wyoming.  It is distinct from traditional clay because it is made from aluminum-silicate formed from volcanic ash.  There are different quality levels & different colors (pink & gray).  It is primarily used for protein stability in white wine.  It is tricky to use in red wine because it can reduce color. It works better with high acid/low PH wines.  It is mixed with water before using.  Otherwise it will just absorb all the wine into a sludge.

PVPP: Poly-vinyl-poly-pyrrolidone is a synthetic polymer.  It is primarily used in white wine where it can remove browning from oxidation, or tannins caused by seeds or unwanted skin contact.  As a preventative measure it can remove pinking precursor components in white wine.  It isn’t used frequently in red wines, but it can reduce bitterness & possibly brighten color.

Sparkalloid: This comes with a branded name because it was developed by Scott Labs.  It is made of the skeletons of algae.  There are hot & a cold mix versions.  It can be used by itself but is often used to remove any leftover haze from other fining agents (particularly bentonite).  It is gentle & doesn’t strip aromas or color.

One more issue for vegans.

One final problem for fans of vegan wine is lysozyme.  Lysozyme is an enzyme with anti-bacterial properties.  It occurs widely in animals & animal products.  Lysozyme is crucial to us due to its work in our tears, saliva, & mucus fighting bacterial infections. Some winemakers use lysozyme derived from egg shells.  It can be used instead of SO2 to control or repress malolactic fermentation in white wines if they want a crisp green apple acidity to their wine rather than creamy or buttery notes.  It can also be used to establish a healthy environment for fermentation.  In the early stages of fermentation, it can kill/control the growth of spoilage bacteria & allow the use of less SO2 during this phase, thus reducing total SO2.  Unlike SO2, it doesn’t inhibit the function of yeasts.  Finally, lysozyme can reduce histamines in wine.  Some types of bacteria produce histamines.  Some people have allergies to histamines & some theorize that histamines are what cause wine headaches rather than sulfites.  Currently, there isn’t a synthetic substitute for lysozyme.

There is growing talk of ingredient labeling for wine, but since fining agents are not additives, they probably would not be covered by any such requirement.  The bottom line is that the vast majority of wines are vegetarian & a growing number of wines are vegan.  More wineries are including this information on their labels and on their websites.  For other wines, more online research may be necessary to determine whether a wine is vegan.  I think that for vegans it makes sense to look for a label that assures you that the wine is vegan.

This importer has a bunch of vegan friendly wines, but there are many more out there.  You just need to be an educated consumer.  You can thank me by sending me your pre-1997 high end wines!








2014 Bordeaux tasting from an organic perspective

17 Feb

On January 22nd a large group of wine geeks piled into the Grand Salon at the Archer Hotel in downtown Napa.  For many of us it was the end of a long seminar for Stage 2 candidates in the Master of Wine program.  That meant that we had been sitting down to blind taste wine every morning for 5 days & tasting other wines throughout the day.  That is the sort of thing that might leave you burned out & ready to take a break, but this is generally my favorite tasting of the year, so I was excited.  This was the annual Bordeaux Tasting, & we were tasting the 2014 vintage.

2013 was a difficult vintage in Bordeaux.  Many of the wines from expensive estates were lean & hard & may take a decade to evolve into something interesting, if they ever do.  The 2014 vintage is a much more promising vintage.  There was some cause to worry when August was cooler than usual, but September & October were drier & hotter in Bordeaux than in any year since 1961 & that allowed grapes to reach phenolic ripeness.   There were some rains near harvest.  October rain had a positive effect in Sauternes & in general conditions were excellent.  While it may not be a classic vintage, many of the wines are accessible now.  There is something to be said for being able to buy a nice bottle & drink it now, or next year & enjoy it versus holding it for 20 years before you can drink it.

Because my work focuses on organic & biodynamic wine, I wanted to pay particular attention to the producers who incorporate some of those practices into their wines.  Here are my notes on those wines.  This tasting was focused on classified growth wines from the Left Bank & some of the higher quality wines from the Right Bank.  There are many other producers of high quality organic & biodynamic wines in Bordeaux.

For those not familiar with Classified Growths in Bordeaux, here’s a quick explanation.  In 1855 Napoleon III wanted a classification of Bordeaux wines for the Exposition Universelle de Paris (like a World’s Fair).  He got a group of merchants together & they ranked the best wines from 1st-5th Growths.  By “best”, they mostly meant the wines that sold for the most money.  They also mainly focused on the vineyards near them, so for the red wines on the list, all but 1 (Château Haut-Brion) came from the Médoc & they ignored the Right Bank.  Oddly enough, that classification still exists & is important today with very few changes.  Châteaus are classified rather than vineyards, so if a 1st Growth bought some vineyards from a 3rd Growth, the wine from those vineyards would now be 1st Growth.  Weird right?  Even weirder is that the mix of grapes has changed over the years, so the current wines may not be very similar to the original.  Château D’Issan was planted 100% to Tarney Coulant, which is obscure these days.  There is still some reason to expect quality based on the designation.  Since these wines have traditionally sold for more money, they have had more money to invest in quality.  To some extent, the designation has been a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Saint Émilion has its own Cru classification which is updated semi-regularly. Premier Grand Cru Classé (A) is the highest designation.


Château Angelus Premier Grand Cru Classé (A) (In Saint Émilion)

Angelus 2014

Alcohol 13.5% 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc

Over 15 years, Château Angelus worked to make their vineyard & winery more sustainable, which led them to implement organic viticulture. They have now converted to 100% organic. They should be officially certified in 2021.  The name of the Château was originally L’Angelus, but the “L” was dropped to make it show up first in alphabetical lists, which is hilarious to me since Angelus is considered one of the great wines of Bordeaux & people would seek it out now no matter where it was in a list.  The name came from the 3 local churches whose bells ringing during the day echoed through the vineyards.

This wine shows a deep concentration of black fruit (blackberry, plum, other brambly fruits) with some subtle leather notes, dust, and tinges of herbs.  It has plenty of tannin & acid to balance the big fruit.  I believe that as the tannins integrate it will improve over the next 5-20 years.  While I don’t think this has the depth of the 2012, or maybe even the 2013, it is still a delicious wine.  This is arguably one of the great Merlot based wines in the world.  It is difficult to say that a wine is a bargain at $279, but this is still a bargain.

Château La Tour Figeac Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’  (In Saint Émilion)

13.5% alcohol 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet FrancFigeac 2014

100% biodynamic farming since 1997.

This wine is still super tight!  If you must drink a bottle now, I would suggest decanting for at least 2 hours if not longer.  That being said, it is a tasty wine.  It has tart red fruit (mostly raspberry), with some dust & earthiness.  In many ways, this is classic Saint Émilion with the emphasis on red fruit & the classic dust notes.

Château Laroze Grand Cru (In Saint Émilion)

13.5% alcohol 66% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet SauvignonChâteau-Laroze-2014–Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru-classe

From 1991-1998, they practiced biodynamics at the winery, but have since switched to organic viticulture.

This also shows those classic dusty Saint Émilion notes. It is a dry wine with red fruit.  The nose isn’t showing much, but the palate delivers.  This wine probably isn’t meant for cellaring beyond the next few years, but it would be great with a steak tonight.

Château Troplong Mondot Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ (In Saint Émilion)


14.5% alcohol 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc

33% of their 37 hectares are organic.  They have stopped mechanical harvesting & now even use horses in the vineyard for tasks that once required trucks.

This has deep rich fruit with more black fruit than red with raspberry, black cherries & mineral notes dominating.  The wine is tight & dense & will take years to unwind.  It will probably improve over the next 20 years.

Château Montrose 2nd Growth (The youngest of the classified growths, getting a late start in 1815) (In Saint-Estèphe)montrose

13.5% alcohol 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot

Currently Château Montrose has converted around 50% of their vineyards to organic viticulture.  Their goal is to be 100% organic by 2025.

This is an excellent wine.  It is very good now, especially if you have time to decant it for an hour or two.  It will be something special if you can hold onto it for at least 10 years & perhaps even better if you can wait 25.  I doubt I could.  For now, it has ripe black fruit, strong coffee notes, blackberry, cedar, & vanilla.  The acid is high & the tannins are powerful.  This wine has staying power for the long haul.  For those that care about such things, The Wine Advocate gave this 96 points.

Château Batailley 5th Growth (in Pauillac)chateau-batailley-2014

13% alcohol 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc

They are experimenting with biodynamics on 5 hectares.  I don’t know if this wine includes those grapes, but figured it was worth including.  They have 57 total hectares.

This is a pretty wine.  The nose has some leather to it, but also has a nice floral component.  The acid & tannin are both high, which balances the fruit & indicates that this wine will age.  How long it will age may be the question.  This wine is delicious right now & that actually makes me wonder how it will hold up in 10-20 years.  Just to be safe, I’m sure that if I had a case, I would drink it in the next 5-10 years anyway.  Not that I could resist!

Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse De Lalande 2nd Growth (In Pauillac)Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse De Lalande

13% alcohol 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot

11 hectares of organic fruit & 3 acres of biodynamic grapes out of 89 total.

This is a beautiful wine. It’s a wine that is delicious now & will be better in a decade.  The nose shows raspberry, blackberry, & cedar. On the palate, the raspberry & black fruit mingle with the coffee & mocha.  There is plenty of structure to this wine.  It has a long raspberry fruit finish.

Château Beychevelle 4th Growth (In Saint Julien)Chateau Beychevelle 2014

14% alcohol 51% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot

About 15% of their roughly 34 hectares are farmed organically.

This reminds me of a chocolate covered raspberry.  There are some floral notes as well, but the key element to me is this raspberry/chocolate combination. The acid & tannin are very high & this is a young wine.  It needs time to relax, but it is going to be extremely good when it matures.

Château Brane Cantenac 2nd (In Margaux)chateau-brane-cantenac-margaux-rouge_bouteille_3

13.5% alcohol 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Over 25% of their 75 hectares are farmed organically.

This is incredibly approachable for such a young Margaux.  The nose is soft & floral with hints of chocolate & dark fruit & touch of graphite.  On the palate, this is an easy to drink wine with chocolate covered cherry & blackberry notes & a hint of cedar.  Tannins are relatively low, or perhaps they are just well integrated.  I thought this was one of the nicer wines of the session to drink now.

Château Du Tertre 5th Growth (In Margaux) dutertre

13% alcohol 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot

55% of their vineyards are biodynamic & as they replant, they are converting to 100% biodynamic.  Their 80 hectares in a single block are one of the largest single blocks in Margaux & all of the Medoc.  They are also one of the few estates still at the same size as at the time of the 1855 Classification.  They also have classes in biodynamics that you can attend if you happen to be in the area.

The nose shows some blackberry & raspberry, but leather really overlays everything about the wine.  The fruit seems a bit depressed & I suspect that there is a bit of Brettanomyces showing here, which may have robbed this wine of its fruit.  The tannins & acid stand out.  I hope that with time, the tannins will integrate & the wine will be more enjoyable.  I am usually a fan of the wine, but less so this year.

Château De Fieuzal (Pessac Leognan)


13.5% alcohol 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot

They employ biodynamic practices, which is a nebulous phrase, but I’m trying to be inclusive.  They began moving their viticulture to organic in 2016.

This has the classic dustiness that I expect from the area.  It has dry tannins that are still integrating.  It has juicy black & red fruit.  This is a wine that is still coming together.  I think with the dust, fruit, & cedar notes, it has the potential to be a more interesting wine in 5 years.

Château Climens 1st Growth (In Barsac)chateau-climens-2014

14% alcohol 100% Semillon

100% Biodynamic certified.  The name comes from a local dialect & means infertile, poor land, but they have managed to get by over the last 472 years just fine.  Château Climens was established in 1547 & in the 1855 classification was one of only a dozen white wines ranked & it ranked only beneath Château d’Yquem.  The only white wines ranked were the classic botrytis wines.  These are sweet wines where multiple passes through the vineyard are required to slowly pick the perfect grapes that have been infected with botrytis.  In some cases, a vine might yield only enough grapes to make a single glass of wine.

Orange marmalade is the primary flavor here.  There are also nice peach notes.  There is a waxy note that is expected in Semillon & it adds body to the wine.  There are layers of flavor here.  The volatile acidity is perhaps a little higher than usual, but it really just gives a lifted note to the palate along with the racy acidity.  As sweet as this wine is, it is well balanced.  It has a long, lingering finish.  I know many people think of this solely a dessert wine, but I like it best with savory foods.   This will be wonderful with pâté or blue cheese.

What were my takeaways from the tasting? First, I think this is a vintage for the Left Bank & Cabernet.  In 2013 the Left Bank wines struggled to achieve ripeness while the Right Bank wines were more successful.  In 2014 the weather was more agreeable across the board & the Cabernet Sauvignon based wines really shine.  Secondly, I think this demonstrated that organic wine producers can successfully put their wines up against any wines in the world.  I know that seems obvious to people who work with organic wine or with organic produce, but it isn’t obvious to everyone.  I interviewed a woman last week who had a background in hotel restaurants.  I asked if she still had contacts with those buyers.  She said that she did, but that “they probably wouldn’t want organic wine because they bought only the finest wines.” I was a bit shocked.  To me it isn’t news that world class wineries like Château Angelus or Domaine de la Romanée-Conti have embraced organic and/or biodynamic practices to produce the best quality wine.  It seems as obvious a concept as using organic tomatoes in a pizza sauce to make the best sauce or expecting a grass-fed organic beef steak to be better than the cheapo stuff.  Chemical agriculture’s main value is that it increases yields.  That might be important if you are trying to maximize the number of yams you can grow per acre.  In viticulture though, high yields aren’t generally associated with quality.  Quality grapes are associated with quality wine.  Organic & biodynamic viticulture is a way to achieve the highest quality grapes.

My final take away from the tasting is that we need to do a better job of getting this story out.  There are plenty of articles about organic wines.  I think that we need to do a better job of putting the wines in context.  Articles about “10 organic wines you must try” are certainly helpful.  I think that they sometimes exist in a vacuum though.  I think that maybe those of us who support organic wine need to evaluate the wines within the context of their region & hold them to the highest standards.  The quality is there.  The producers are there.  The next step is to get the average wine consumer to understand what this means.  What’s the best way to do that?  I don’t have the answer yet, but I’m going to work on it.  Let me know if you have a great idea!

Contrarian Super Bowl LVIII Reactions

17 Feb

After this year’s Super Bowl there were 3 storylines that got some push in the media.  One was that it was a boring Super Bowl.  Another was that someone on defense for the Patriots should have won the MVP.  The third was that Julian Edelman might have cemented Hall of Fame status with this game.  I disagree with all three of those storylines.  Let’s look at them in order.

The Super Bowl wasn’t boring.

tackling goff

Does Jared Goff look bored to you?

This was a tremendous defensive struggle.  The Patriots were able to move the ball consistently against the Rams but couldn’t score points.  The Rams had some opportunities for spectacular plays, but different Patriots players seemed to rise up at key moments to stop them.  As a whole, the Patriots defense dominated the game. The Patriots held the #3 scoring offense of the year, an offense that scored over 500 points during the regular season, to 3 points.   Holding a team to 3 points is something that had previously only been accomplished in Super Bowl history by the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI versus the Miami Dolphins.  The 1985 Chicago Bears team didn’t do it.  The defensive minded Baltimore Ravens didn’t do it.  If you appreciate a great game with great defense, then this was a fun Super Bowl for you.

Aside from the joy of watching a great defensive game in a year when offense performances reached ridiculous heights (Rams 54/Chiefs 51 being the poster child), this game was in doubt well into the 4th quarter.  This was no more than a 1 score game until after the 2-minute warning in the 4th quarter when Stephen Gostkowski hit a field goal to put the Patriots up by 2 scores.  I was on the edge of my seat when he kicked because his first kick of the night was a miss & his second kick just barely made it inside the uprights.  There was every reason to think that he might miss the kick & set up the Rams with great field position to tie the game.  Even then, the Rams managed to quickly get into field goal position & set the stage for a miracle finish.  Anyone who watched the Dolphins beat the Patriots this year knew that it wasn’t over until Greg Zuerlein missed that field goal attempt.  Having a Super Bowl come down to the last couple of minutes is impressive.  We might be getting spoiled because we have had so many close games recently.  From 1980-1999, only 4 of 20 Super Bowls were 1 score games.  Most of them were effectively over by half time.  I will happily take a 13-3 game rather than something like Super Bowl XLVIII where the Seahawks beat the Broncos 43-8 in a game that wasn’t even as close as that lopsided score.

Patriots Rams Super Bowl Football

Jason McCourty makes an unbelievable play to stop a touchdown

So, the defense was amazing?  Doesn’t that mean that the MVP should have been someone from the defense?  I think that would be the case if one player had made more highlight plays.  The truth is that the Patriots defense performed like a machine with every player working with every other player to dominate the Rams.  Duron Harmon had a couple of stand out plays.  He jarred the ball loose from Brandin Cooks on what looked like a touchdown catch.  He also effectively blitzed Jared Goff on the play where Goff was intercepted by Stephon Gilmore. That pressure forced Goff to throw without a follow through & contributed to him hanging the ball up for grabs.  Jason McCourty made arguably the play of the game when he ran seemingly across half the field in the time it took for Goff’s pass to travel to an uncovered Brandin Cooks just in time to knock the ball loose.  Stephon Gilmore probably had the best case for a defensive MVP.  He forced a fumble, intercepted that wounded duck pass, broke up 3 other pass attempts, & made 5 tackles.  If he had won the MVP, I wouldn’t have griped.

Julian Edelman was the MVP though.Edelman vs Rams  It wasn’t just his stats that tell the story, although his 10 catches, 141 yards are impressive.  That ranks just outside the top 10 for receiving yards in a Super Bowl.  What seals it for me was how valuable Edelman was across the board.  He was clutch.  Just like in Super Bowl LVI & in the AFC Championship game 2 weeks earlier, Edelman didn’t make every possible catch, but he made the ones that they had to have.  Edelman made contributions in the running game as well.  Edelman made several key blocks on players who outweighed him by 50 pounds or more.  He & Gronkowski blocked in a way that most offensive weapons aren’t even asked to do.  Edelman was also a leader on the field.  If you have watched the “Mic’d up” special for Super Bowl LVI or LVIII, you can see how vocal he is in boosting the offense.  I also liked how he reminded the running backs before the final run of the night to wipe their arms dry so that they wouldn’t fumble.  His intense competitive drive combined with Tom Brady’s helps  lift the team to its best possible performance.  The Patriots demonstrated that they could replace a key defensive player when Patrick Chung (who was having a great game) broke his forearm & was replaced by Duron Harmon. There would have been no effective replacement for Edelman for this game & I think that’s why he deserved the MVP award.edelman 53 catchSo since Edelman was a key component in 3 Super Bowl victories & won the MVP, isn’t he a lock for the Hall of Fame?  If we were talking about the Patriots Hall of Fame. I would say he is a lock.  For the NFL Hall of Fame. I think he is still a long shot.  The good news is that he still has time to improve his case.  Right now the argument for him is that he has won 3 Super Bowl rings, been the MVP of a Super Bowl, & has the second most receiving yards in NFL playoff history behind Jerry Rice.

Edelman has 499 career catches for 5,390 yards, & 30 touchdowns.  That compares favorably to Lynn Swann who may have gotten into the Hall of Fame based on an incredible Super Bowl performance, but the numbers aren’t as good as former Patriot Troy Brown, who managed 557 catches, 6,366 yards, & 31 touchdowns.  Former Patriot Deion Branch caught 518 passes for 6,644 yards and 39 touchdowns & an MVP of his own in Super Bowl XXXIX.  Even on the current team, tight end Rob Gronkowski is a more prolific receiver.  Gronkowski has amassed 521 catches for 7,861 yards, & 79 touchdowns in what should be a first ballot Hall of Fame career.

I think we are seeing an overcorrection.  For years Edelman has been one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL.  He has come up big at key moments in a way that very few players have on the national stage.  He hasn’t put up huge statistics though & has had only 2 seasons with over 1,000 yards.  Edelman hasn’t generally been mentioned in the top receivers in the league & he has never received a Pro Bowl invitation, which would be a crime if he weren’t usually busy getting ready for the Super Bowl at that time of year anyway.  I think that after this Super Bowl, people are rushing to make up for years of over looking him.  I think that they will probably settle into acknowledging that he is one of the better wide receivers in the NFL but not Hall of Fame quality yet.

Yet is the key word here.  Jerry Rice has said that if Edelman starts knocking on the door of his records for most receptions & most yards in the playoffs that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame & I agree.  I also think that Edelman has time to add to his numbers.  At 32 years old, he could absolutely add another 3,000-5,000 yards to his total.  Edelman didn’t become a featured receiver in the office until 2013 when he replaced Wes Welker’s role in the slot.  That year he jumped from 21 receptions to 105.  He only had 714 yards receiving in his first 4 years.  In his career he really has 4 years as a role player who even played some defense, & then 5 years as a key receiving target.  He might have more tread left on his tires than your average 32-year-old receiver.  If he can stay healthy, he could play for several more years.  I think that if he can reach 10,000 yards (which would be tough) that he would be a lock for the Hall with his playoff heroics.

Either way, Edelman has had a phenomenal career for a 7th round pick who was selected despite not having a natural position.

edelman sb 53 trophy

The history of the NFL is full of college quarterbacks who couldn’t play quarterback in the NFL & couldn’t successfully transition to another position.  Edelman has made it look easy & whether he make the Hall of Fame or not, he has carved out an incredible career.  As he said many times during Super Bowl LVI when he was pumping up the team for a historic comeback, “It’s going to be one hell of a story.”



Bruno Chief of Police & the case of the underappreciated wine region.

27 Jul

bruno chief of policeWhen I started reading Martin Walker’s Bruno Chief of Police, I had no expectations other than a mystery set in France.  I didn’t expect it would introduce me to an excellent wine region that is criminally underappreciated by the word at large; Bergerac.  The books regular references to Bergerac Sec drove me to hunt down examples.  I quickly realized that Bergerac produced excellent quality Bordeaux style wines at a bargain price.

Bergerac has a long wine history, dating back to the Romans.  The region is located just east of St. Émilion.  That puts it within the Aquitaine.  The area enjoyed privileged trading with England during the reign of Henry II who was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine.  In 1254, Henry III granted special privileges to Bergerac to ship to Bordeaux & then to England without additional taxes.  The region primarily adopted the same grape plantings & styles as Bordeaux.  For centuries Bergerac’s fortunes rose & fell with Bordeaux.  The area was considered a part of Bordeaux & its wine were labeled as such.

That all changed with the development of the AOC system in France.  In 1936 the AOC system was set up & it was determined that Bergerac AOC would be separate from Bordeaux & would generally follow the geographic area of the Dordogne Département.  Cut loose from the association with Bordeaux, it has taken a long time for Bergerac to emerge in its own light.  There are now 13 AOC regions within the main AOC.  They cover a range of styles from dry reds, to sweet reds, to rose’, to dry whites, to unctuous sweet whites.  There are over 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) planted to grapes.  They even have a left & right bank with different styles, kind of like Bordeaux.  Vineyards on the left bank are planted on the hillside & have limestone soils.  Vineyards on the right bank are often terraced with a blend of stony, sandy, & alluvial soils.  The river effect moderates the temperatures. Some prominent sub-appellations of Bergerac include Monbazillac, Pécharmant, & Montravel.

Monbazillac AOC is famous for dessert wines.  They are made from Sémillon, Sauvignon chateau-belingard-monbazillac-france-10000455Blanc, & Muscadelle grapes that have been infected by botrytis (more Muscadelle than in Sauternes).  The grapes are handpicked in tries. It is said that “Noble rot” was discovered by Benedictine monks who set up a priory in Bergerac in 1080 and began producing wine (I suspect that wine was made using infected grapes centuries earlier, although not necessarily on purpose).  Monbazillac may not be as long lived as the greatest Sauternes, but they are still incredible wines.  The best can last for decades. Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure’s Sémillon & Muscadelle version is terrific.   Rosette AOC & Saussignac AOC also make white dessert wine.

Pécharmant AOC has outstanding potential for red wine. The vineyards sit on a plateau with a combination of chalk & gravel above an iron/clay layer called “Tran.”  These wines have deep flavors & the potential to compete with 3rd – 5th growth Bordeaux at a bargain price. Domaine Haut-Pécharmant is a solid producer.

Montravel Rouge is a somewhat new concept.  The area was known for its white wines for years, but now has a dedicated AOC for red wines.  One thing that makes it unusual is that the AOC status is determined after bottling.  The wine must pass a taste panel for quality & the ability to age.   Wines must be at least 50% Merlot, although many are closer to 90% Merlot with some Cabernet Franc, like Pomerol.  Parts of Montravel AOC directly adjoin St. Émilion.   The soils are virtually the same.  If you were walking in the region, you wouldn’t really notice a difference in the landscape.  If you tried a glass, you might not taste much difference either.  The prices & availability would definitely be different.  Not a lot of these wines are exported, but when you find them, they can be a bargain.  The Guide-Hachette de Vines compared Montravel Rouge to Pomerol & said “Two to three times less expensive than its neighbor and brother from Bordeaux for a wine that is almost identical.”map bergerac

Dry white wine in Bergerac can be excellent as well.  The Bergerac Sec I discovered from the Walker novels tends to be a crisp, grassy, & thirst quenching Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon blend, often with a touch of Muscadelle.  White wine production is probably more important to the economy than red.  Other white grapes are used including Ugni Blanc, & Chenin Blanc, although their use is decreasing.

Bergerac finally seems poised to emerge from the shadow of Bordeaux.  There is a push to go outside the traditional export channels.  Currently, only about 15% of Bergerac AOC wine is exported.  Most of that goes to England, Belgium, Germany, & the Netherlands.  Bergerac Wine Holdings is a publicly traded company based in Bergerac.  They have purchased several properties including Chateau Riffaud & Chateau Belingard.  They have made an effort to expand into Asia & the United States.  They even have a South Korean educated director of Asian Business Development, Marc Amram, who is based in Shanghai.  That’s an important step for a Bergerac company into the broader market.  The newer red appellations are winning awards & gaining prestige for the region.  Magazines like Wine Enthusiast are reviewing the wines more frequently.  Even a recent setback may turn out to have a silver lining. In April of 2017, there was severe frost damage.  Most of the coverage was of Bordeaux, but parts of Bergerac also had extensive damage.  The only good news is that Bordeaux may be in shorter supply for the 2017 vintage & that may be an opportunity for Bergerac to fill some empty spots on shelves worldwide.  Once more people have the opportunity to sample Bergerac wines, they may find that they want to continue drinking them.  I know that’s what happened to me once I tried my first Bergerac Sec on the recommendation of the fictional Bruno, Chief of Police.

PS: I highly recommend the Bruno series!  They tend to have moments of intense violence or action, but the true joy in the books is in the quiet moments where a meal is prepared and shared.  I love the mysteries, but I would read a new Bruno story that was just an uneventful month in Bruno’s life.  It’s that enjoyable. Check out Martin Walker’s website.  Not only will you learn more about the books, you can find everything you need to plan a trip to Perigord to try Bergerac wines in their native home.  You also can find excellent recipes for the kind of food served in the books.templars last secret


Can the wine industry ever be socially responsible?

14 Jun

In 2014, one of the questions on the Master of Wine exam asked if the wine industry could ever be socially responsible.  I recently looked into the issue & I believe the answer is yes.  Here are some of the issues.  This is a fairly long article for wine geeks, but hopefully there are some interesting points along the way.

Social responsibility is the idea that businesses should balance profit making activities with those that benefit society.  It means developing businesses that contribute more than they take from society and the planet.  The wine industry hasn’t always been socially responsible.  There are barriers to success, but it is possible for different areas of the industry & the industry as a whole to be socially responsible.  Let’s look at the wine industry supply chain to see the challenges & opportunities.

Grape growing


For much of the last 10,000 years, grape growing was actually done in a manner that would be considered organic today.  Starting with the late 1800’s & picking up speed in 1903 with the creation of the first synthetic fertilizer, vineyards began to shift to growing practices that had negative environmental impacts.  Here are some of the worst practices/greatest challenges.


According to the California Department of Pesticides Regulation, in 2010 25 million pounds of pesticides were applied to conventionally-grown wine grapes in California. The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) classifies about a million pounds of those chemicals dispersed on wine grapes as “bad actors,” meaning that they are known or probable causes of cancer, are neurotoxins, or groundwater contaminants.  France sprays over 60,000 tons of pesticides per year.  Numerous studies have suggested links between pesticide use and a range of health impacts, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease and other chronic conditions.  In 2015 manslaughter charges were filed against the government of France & the producers of certain pesticides over the death of James-Bernard Murat from long term exposure to sodium arsenite.  In May of 2014 a number of schoolchildren in Bordeaux were hospitalized after exposure to drift from pesticide spray.  Some fungicides are toxic to fish.  The toxic chemicals can enter the groundwater as runoff and find its way to rivers and the ocean.


The primary issue is the use of glyphosate as a herbicide (primarily under the trade name Roundup.  It is estimated that in 2001, more than 400,000 pounds of Roundup were applied in vineyards (out of almost 200 million pounds used worldwide).  There is debate over the hazards of glyphosate, but there are a number of legitimate concerns.  In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization, designated glyphosate a “probable human carcinogen.” Three out of the four human studies on agricultural workers that were reviewed showed a link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.  It has been linked to Parkinson’s disease as well.  It has also been shown to harm the microbial structure of soil, which can have long term effects as well as damaging the terroir for wine growing. In 1996, the Attorney General of New York won a lawsuit to force Monsanto, developer of Roundup, to stop making claims that the product was biodegradable & “practically non-toxic.”

Water use/irrigation

Irrigation can waste precious water. CAFF Policy Director Dave Runsten said, “We’re over-irrigating a lot of crops in California.”  With drought a growing problem because of global warming, over irrigating is not socially responsible.

Fertilizer runoff

Like many agricultural enterprises, some grape growers use chemical fertilizers, which are nitrate based.  After the nitrogen makes its way to rivers, lakes, & oceans, it fertilizes blooms of algae that deplete oxygen and leave dead zones where no fish or traditional sea life can survive.  There is the potential for a catastrophic collapse of our food chain.

CO2 Production

CO2 is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.  Gas used in farm vehicles in vineyards emit CO2.  Gas or electric pumps for irrigation also contribute to the problem.

Migrant exploitation

Well before John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, some grape growers were known for exploiting their workers.  Whether that has been illegal Mexican workers in California or illegal Algerian workers in France, there is a history of long hours for low pay with minimal safety standards, poor housing, and little attention paid to the dangers of pesticide & herbicide exposure.  Child labor has been common in places like Argentina.


Organic growing practices & biodynamic practices can prevent most of these problems & reverse some of the damage.  Even a move toward regulated sustainability, like the Lodi Rules program can help.  Wineries like Chakana in Argentina has seen changes in the vineyards after a switch to biodynamics.  Juan Pelizzatti showed me the difference in the soil between his vineyards that had been converted to biodynamics & nearby vineyards that had not.  The biodynamic soil was much richer.  I noticed fireflies at the winery that evening & he told me that they never had them when they farmed conventionally.  Perlage Winery in Italy has a similar story.  They feature a rigogolo (oriole) on some of their bottles.  The bird had disappeared from the area for years, but after their biodynamic vineyard was established the orioles returned.  Some of the best-known wineries in the world, like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti have embraced biodynamic growing.  Using these processes decreases the number of vehicles used in the vineyard.  Between that & the increased use of solar power for the vehicles & for pumps, and it is possible for vineyards to not only be carbon neutral, but to be net reducers of carbon due to sequestration of carbon in the vines themselves.

Adopting sustainable/organic/or biodynamic practices could lead to reduced yield, but it would make grape growers better stewards of the land.  Since grape growers aren’t under pressure to feed the world in the way that other agricultural producers may be, they have a real opportunity to be socially responsible.

Katia Gindro is working on another solution.  The Swiss biologist has extracted & identified 60 molecules from Vitis vinifera grapevines including a couple that are particularly effective at killing vine diseases.  She is working on turning these molecules into treatments that eliminate the need for fungicides.  This research is funded in part by Chateaus Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margoux, Haut-Brion, Mounton Rothschild, Ausone, Cheval-Blanc, Yquem and Pétrus.

Finally, there is a movement towards better treatment of workers.  One of the points in the Lodi Rules program for sustainability is that it requires that workers are paid a livable wage.  In California, market forces are forcing growers to pay more because they are competing with marijuana growers for workers.  This has also led to an increase in benefits.  The Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation pays for education and professional development programs ranging from English training to safety in the vineyard programs.  As part of the program, Napa growers contribute to fund better housing for farmworkers that include meals, lodging, recreational opportunities, & a laundry.  The starting pay for a Napa vineyard worker is around $12 per hour and experienced Napa Valley farmworkers and those with certificates and additional training can be paid as much as $40 per hour.  More workers are becoming fulltime employees due to the need for year-round vineyard management. The 2011 Napa Valley Wages & Benefits Survey shows that 91% of supervisors and 69% of vineyard workers are offered medical insurance plans (compared to 52% nationwide in the private sector) and 55% are offered 401k plans in Napa.

Fair Trade programs in many countries have helped ensure better treatment of workers.  In Argentina Fair Trade certification for wineries like Chakana ensures that no child labor is used.  There is a program called Education Harvest in Argentina that gives children of harvest workers safe temporary housing during harvest.  In the past, workers had brought their children into the fields with them during harvest.  In February, the kids are out of school.  With this program about 100 children stay at the nursery garden & sports center in Tupungato.  The receive breakfast, lunch, & medical care.  Major producers like Bodega Cantena Zapata, Domaine Chandon, & Don Antonio Vineyards participate in the program.

Wine production


Water use can be very high in wineries. This is harmful for the same reasons above.

Electricity use is very high at most wineries, particularly during harvest.

CO2 is a natural byproduct of grape fermentation.


Many wineries are adopting solar power.  Lange Twins in Lodi is a net supplier to the grid & only has to pull from the grid during harvest.  Sustainable wineries can capture water used in production, filter it, & then use it for irrigation. Nuevo Mundo in Chile is the 1st certified carbon neutral winery in South America.  They practice water efficiency management in the vineyard and treat all the water used in the production process, which then goes back to the grid. It is also possible to capture CO2 in the winery to reuse for blanketing grapes.  The E-CO2 project promoted by the Consorzio Tutela Soave and carried out by research facilities and companies in the winemaking industry found new process to clean & capture CO2 at a food grade level.  The CO2 is then sold off for other uses.  The new Jess S. Jackson Sustainable Winery Building at the University of California, Davis is demonstrating a system for sequestering carbon dioxide from fermentation that will convert carbon dioxide into calcium carbonate (chalk).

Wineries can even be certified as carbon neutral if they reduce and offset residual emissions so the net calculated carbon emissions equal zero.  Grove Mill in Marlborough New Zealand was the first winery certified carbon neutral.  The use lighter weight bottles & sponsor forest regeneration in the Marlborough Sounds.  They also have a program to protect the rare Southern Bell frog in the nearby wetlands.  Backsberg Estate in South Africa plants trees & uses biofuels to offset excess carbon.  The have a wine called “Tread Lightly” that uses PET packaging to reduce shipping weight & fuel costs.  They were the first carbon neutral certified winery in South Africa, which is an area that is currently under severe drought that may have been worsened by global warming.  The first U.S. winery to go carbon neutral was Parducci in Mendocino.  They turned to solar and wind power and installed an “anaerobic digestor” to get rid of the methane released from livestock manure on the family farm.

“Global warming is the most serious issue on the planet,” said Paul Dolan, co-owner of the Parducci Family Farmed winery in Mendocino County. “I don’t want to see every winery in the United States go carbon neutral, I want every single person in the world going carbon neutral.”

Wine shipping (import/export, distribution, trucking)   


Wine shipping has a huge carbon footprint.  Glass may be shipped from China or Mexico.  The typical case of wine in a cardboard box weighs about 35 pounds & wooden boxes weigh even more.  Wine may be shipped from Europe to New Jersey, then trucked to a warehouse in California, then trucked to a distributor’s warehouse elsewhere, then trucked to the restaurant or retail store.  That accounts for a lot of fossil fuels and CO2 emission.

Some of this is due to a consumer belief that quality wine was made & bottled at the winery.  The big shift towards bottling at the winery started when Baron Philippe Rothschild had the 1924 vintage of Mouton-Rothschild bottled en châteaux. He successfully encouraged other Bordeaux Growths to do the same to ensure the provenance and quality of the wine, although Margaux didn’t switch to estate bottling until the 1948 vintage.  Many wine regions require the wine to be bottled in the area of production if they want to use the regional name on the wine.


Much of the world’s wine is once again shipped in bulk and bottled near the point of sale.  Australia has increased its bulk exports to the UK from around 30% in 2008 to 80%. South Africa ships 65% of their wine in bulk.  In the EU, “approximately 64 percent of imports were comprised of bulk wine.”   Bulk wine accounts for 43% of all exported wine.

Environmental concerns were the impetus for the bulk boom in England. In 2005, thirteen UK Supermarkets representing 92% of the market signed the Courtauld Commitment, designed by government supported non-profit organization WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) (IGD).  This was an agreement between WRAP and the grocers to work together to reduce their carbon footprint by acting on opportunities to reduce waste. They believe during the first 4 years of the program; 1.2 million tons of food and packaging waste was prevented and 3.3 million tons of carbon emissions were avoided.  They calculate that “in comparison to road freighting, transporting bottled wine by rail from France can reduce transport emissions by almost 30%, whereas transporting by sea can save about 20%.”  There have been continuations of the agreement and more retailers have joined.

Shipping in bulk and bottling closer to the consumer reduces environmental costs.  The GlassRite study on bulk shipping concludes, “By more than doubling the amount of product that can be shipped in a standard container and by avoiding the transport of bottles, bulk importing greatly reduces environmental emissions associated with transport.” The writers at the thirtyfifty website, (Wine Educator of the Year 2015), point out CO2 savings aren’t the only environmental benefit, “In the UK where we have natural use for green glass, importing by bulk reduces the amount of waste glass imported into the country … Reducing waste and improving the recyclability of green glass in the UK.”

As mentioned earlier, some wineries are using lighter weight glass bottles and some are using lighter alternative packaging in their efforts to be carbon neutral.  Gallo has created their own carbon neutral plant to produce glass rather than importing it.

Transportation will always be a negative part of the overall winery puzzle, but it is an area where progress can be made.

Wine retail or restaurants


There aren’t many social responsibility challenges to wine retailers that don’t face other businesses.  There are employment issues and energy use issues.

The main difference is that the sale of alcohol can be perceived as a social ill.  If stores cater to or encourage alcoholics, that isn’t socially responsible.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that alcoholism kills 88,000 people per year in the United States.  That isn’t primarily caused by wine of course, but they don’t break it out between wine, spirits, & beer.


The wine industry has moved away from the high alcohol, cheaply fortified wines that contributed to the wino stereotype.  Regulations require industry campaigns to combat alcoholism & drunk driving.  As the wine industry has moved toward premiumization, wine has become less of the choice for alcoholics looking for the most buzz at the cheapest price.  While more can be done, wine has differentiated itself somewhat from the spirit or beer industry.

The wine industry is regulated in a way that prevents it from properly telling the story of the health benefits of wine.  When looking at social responsibility, it is fair to look at the positive benefits of moderate wine consumption.

  • Wine drinkers have a 34 percent lower mortality rate than beer or spirits drinkers. This is according to a Finnish study over 29 years.
  • Moderate drinkers suffering from high blood pressure are 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack than nondrinkers according to a 16-year study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
  • Moderate drinkers have 30 percent less risk than nondrinkers of developing type 2 diabetes. This was seen in a study following 369,862 individuals studied over an average of 12 years each, at Amsterdam’s VU University Medical Center.
  • The possibility of suffering a blood clot–related stroke drops by about 50 percent in people who consume moderate amounts of alcohol. This was seen in a Columbia University study of 3,176 individuals over an eight-year period.
  • According to an Icelandic study, moderate drinkers are 32 percent less likely to get cataracts than nondrinkers; those who consume wine are 43 percent less likely to develop cataracts than those drinking mainly beer.
  • Moderate consumption of wine cuts the risk of colon cancer by 45 percent according to a Stony Brook University study of 2,291 individuals over a four-year period, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2005.
  • Brain function declines at a markedly faster rate in nondrinkers than in moderate drinkers. This is according to a Columbia University study of 1,416 people, published in Neuroepidemiology, 2006.


Some wine retailers have gone carbon-neutral. JJ Buckley Fine Wines, a wine shop in Oakland, Calif., works with Carbonfund.org to offset all its emissions associated with shipping and receiving as well as employee commuting.

Two more issues

I also wanted to touch on two areas that don’t fit neatly into the supply chain approach.  The first is the final disposal of the wine bottles.  Luckily more companies are using recycled glass.  More communities are recycling.  Many wineries are using a portion of recycled paper, ink, & glass in their production.  In fact, Lodi Rules require it.

The second area is employee diversity.  While women have played a historic role in the history of wine from Eleanor of Aquitaine to the Widow Clicquot, to modern wine makers like Helen Turley, and influential critics like Jancis Robinson, women have been underrepresented in the wine industry.  This is changing & organizations like Women in Wine are leading the way.  A bigger diversity problem is a lack of African American representation.  At our recent MW Seminar week in San Francisco, there were people there from several continents with a diverse range of ethnic groups, and a strong female representation.  There were no people of African origin that I saw at the event.  According to the 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture, only 1% of all farm operators are black.  While African Americans purchase 50% of all cognac sold in the United States, only about 25% of African Americans drink wine.  This is slowly changing.  There is a relatively new African American Vintners Association & more African Americans are joining or starting tasting groups.  This is still an area where as an industry, we can do better.


While it requires work to do so, there is nothing that prevents the wine industry from being socially responsible.  In addition to what we covered, there are many charity programs run by wineries.  Profits from the Monde Eau label from Badger Mountain go to help dig water wells in Africa.  Staglin Family Vineyards has the Salus label where profits go towards mental health services.  The Hospices de Beaune charity auction in Burgundy has been held annually since 1859.  There are hundreds of other examples. There are many socially responsible companies in the wine industry, just like in any other industry.  For the industry as a whole to reach that point only requires enough additional companies to join them to reach a tipping point.




Dry farming versus irrigation. Is there one correct choice for wine vineyards?

15 Mar

Dry farming has become a relatively new buzzword in the wine industry, with supporters touting it as the road to better wine & a better environment.  I thought it was worth taking a look at dry farming and irrigation to see if I could sort out some of the truth from the hype.  What is dry farming?  What are the benefits and risks of dry farming versus the benefits & risks of irrigating?  Is there any middle ground?

While there doesn’t seem to be a regulatory definition of dry farming, there are some basic guidelines.  Here’s my best try at a definition: dry farming is crop production that relies on residual soil moisture during dry seasons.  Some people say that it should be “soil moisture stored from precipitation,” but I believe that natural snow melt that is not channeled by man is a legitimate part of dry farming.  Many practice a version of dry farming that says “we only irrigate in years where we must to avoid losing the crop.”  While I understand the sentiment, & generally agree with the approach, I’m not sure they are really dry farming.  Being a mostly dry farmer may be like being a little pregnant.

The first viticulture was probably dry farming, but it didn’t take long for irrigation to join the party.  It is believed that wine making began around 7,000 years ago.  The Areni 1 Winery currently holds the record for oldest known winery at 6,100 years old. Irrigation was definitely practiced for some crops starting around 5,0000 BC (equal to the beginning of viticulture).  The first known irrigation canals specifically for viticulture are over 2,600 years old in Armenia & in Egypt.  Of course, there may be much older sites waiting to be discovered.

Before examining the strengths & weaknesses of dry farming, it is probably worth establishing where you can & can’t dry farm.  It also might help to have a general baseline for the main grape growing climates.

There are three basic climates associated with grape growing & wine making.  They are Maritime, Continental, & Mediterranean climates. Each has its own water issues.  Maritime climates tend to have a moderate climate tempered by the effect of a large nearby body of water.  They have warm, but not hot summers & cool, but not cold winters. Classic Maritime wine regions include Bordeaux, most of Oregon, Rias Baixas, & New Zealand.  In a Maritime climate, the rain concern is too much rain, particularly during the growing & harvest seasons.  They also can have high humidity, which promotes mold, mildew, bunch rot, & nematodes, among other hazards to grapes.  Irrigation in Maritime climates is generally only necessary in unusual drought years.  Mediterranean climates are characterized by a long growing season with little temperature shift.  The winter is generally warmer than Maritime or Continental winters.  Most rain comes during the winter.  There is very little rain during the growing season, which prevents a variety of problems, but increases drought issues.  Mediterranean areas are more likely to use irrigation during the summer ripening stages. Classic Mediterranean regions include Greece, Tuscany, Provence, Sonoma, & the Napa Valley.  Continental climates tend to be inland & away from large bodies of water.  They can have very cold winters & very hot summers.  Rain falls mainly in the winter & spring.  Areas with soil that has good water retention generally don’t have water issues.  Areas with soils that don’t retain as much water (granite for instance) may have water issues during the summer. Continental growing regions include the Columbia Valley, Texas High Plains, & most of Austria.

There are a few requirements to dry farm grapes.  Some are under control of the producer & some are not.  The most basic is rainfall (including snow melt).  There is general agreement in the scientific community that 20 inches of rain per year is the cut off point for regular dry farming.  Sites with 15 inches of rain might work with just the right soil or rain at just the right time, but it is likely that emergency watering will be needed more years than not.  Oregon based dry farming advocates The Deep Roots Coalition & a couple of other advocates consistently list Santorini as an example of dry farming being possible with 4-10 inches of rain, but if you look up Santorini rain fall, you will see that they get almost 22 inches a year. When the rain falls is important.  Rain in spring and summer matters because that is when you have flowering and fruit set.  In Tuscany, the vines receive about 8 inches of rain during this time compared to 2.4 inches in Napa.  If the soil can’t retain the water from winter rains, that isn’t enough for the vines.

Dry farming requires soils with moisture retention capabilities.  The California Ag Water Stewardship initiative compares it to the same considerations as picking a site for a pond.  Sandy soils or heavily fractured soils do not work well.  Clay & sandy loam are great at retaining water.  Deep soils where vines can burrow down are important.  The deeper roots allow the vine to work its way down to stored water. “Nothing is drought tolerant on shallow soils,” says Andy Walker, a professor at the University of California-Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.  Dave Osgood, who dry farms in Paso Robles says “See what grows there naturally. If it is only dry grass land, then it may be hard to dry farm, but if you have oak trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses, then you have water in the soils.”

Rootstock selection is also important when dry farming.  St. George rootstock seems to be the preferred rootstock for dry farmers due to its drought resistance.  It isn’t as popular in some areas because it reduces yields, but dry farmers aren’t looking for high yields anyway.  Rootstocks can make it difficult to switch an existing vineyard over to dry farming.  After the AxR1 debacle in California (a rootstock that turned out not to be Phylloxera resistant), many vineyards were replanted with a riparian rootstock.  Those roots love water, but don’t have drought resistance.  To convert a vineyard with riparian rootstock to dry framing would probably require ripping out the vineyard & replanting.  That isn’t sustainable from an environmental or commercial perspective.

Trellising, or lack thereof also plays a part.  Dry farmed vineyards are frequently bush pruned.  This promotes smaller vines with less wood (which means it needs less water).  It also allows natural shade for the vine while still having air flow.  Vines need to be spaced further apart than in standard modern vineyards.  Depending on the soil & rainfall, this can vary from 32-120 feet.  You see this in the Toro region of Spain, where the vines are spaced far apart in bush vines to get enough water to survive.  The nice side effect of this, is that they never got the Phylloxera louse.  Dry farmed vineyards in the California North Coast are spaced at 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 feet intervals, but south in Paso Robles, you need to go to 10 x 10 or 12 x 12 foot spacing.

Finally, some grapes do better with dry farming than others.  Vigorous grapes do best, because the reduction of vigor in dry farming just brings them into balance.  That means that classic hot climate grapes like Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, & Tempranillo do well, but grapes like Pinot Noir do not. Barbera is considered one of the harder grapes to dry farm.


With all of that background out of the way, we can finally get to the comparisons.  Sorry for all of the buildup!  I just wanted to get the ground rules down.


Dry Farming SWOT


  • Dry farmed wines probably show a purer terroir. If terroir is everything about the site that makes it unique, then adding anything to it, whether that is water or fertilizer, takes away from that expression.
  • There is some evidence that properly dry farmed grapes can be higher quality for wine making than others. Some growers and wine makers believe that dry farmed fruit is sweeter, with more intensely flavored grapes.  The grapes tend to have lower yields, which is associated with quality.  The berries tend to be smaller, which is advantageous for red grapes because it means the skin to juice ratio will be higher (which means more anthocyanin & tannin extraction).  The wines are thought to have more dry extract, which increases ageability. One study noted, “Long-term responses to water shortage include re­duced canopy size, increased root-to-shoot ratio, improved water-use efficiency, and altered fruit composition (Chaves et al. 2010).”  All of the wines that originally won the 1976 Judgment of Paris that put California on the world wine map were dry farmed.
  • If you believe in minerality in wine, then dry farmed wines have a better chance of minerality. The roots go deeper & can extract more minerals.  I’m not tackling minerality right now.  One controversial subject at a time is my motto.
  • As expected, there is a tremendous water savings. 16,000 gallons of water per acre is a solid estimate.
  • There is an energy savings. The energy used to transport & pump water for irrigation is eliminated.
  • Weeding (or herbicides for non-organic growers) is decreased. Part of dry farming involves tilling the soil & creating a dry layer of soil (called dust mulch) on the top to trap moisture.  It is dry enough that fewer weeds grow.
  • Money & time spent in establishing & maintaining irrigation is eliminated. Irrigation systems seem to require a lot of maintenance & in my experience, someone is always damaging some aspect of the system.
  • The initial installation cost is much less. Dave Osgood says it costs about $6,000 per acre to plant non-irrigated, head pruned vines in Paso Robles & between $30,000-$40,000 per acre to plant with trellising & irrigation.
  • The vines may become heartier. CAFF policy director Dave Runsten said, “the vines become self-regulating, which can create resilience to drier seasons and heat events.” (Community Alliance of Family Farmers).
  • There are some wineries that will pay more for dry farmed grapes, and some customers who will pay more for dry farmed wine.
  • Some argue that dry farming decreases the stomata on the bottom of the leaves and that this leads to reduced sugar/alcohol potential. I have seen no studies that support this conclusion and have seen several that refute it.  I’m just including it here because it is a common belief of some dry farming supporters.


  • It isn’t possible in some vineyards. Starting new vineyards in Argentina for instance would be virtually impossible without irrigation.  Mendoza averages fewer than 9 inches of rain per year and Patagonia veers between 3.5 and 17 inches.  Anything less than 10 is considered a desert.  Some areas in the eastern portion of the Barossa Valley in Australia average 12.4 inches.  East of the Cascades rain shadow in Washington State, vineyards average 6-8 inches of rain. The largest growing area in America would be deeply impacted without irrigation. The southern San Joaquin Valley between Fresno (11 inches) and Bakersfield (6 inches) would not be able to grow grapes.
  • Long term water deficits damage vines. One study concluded, “Prolonged and severe water deficit may reduce vigor, yield, and wine quality, and may have cumulative effects on growth and yield formation in subsequent years.” (Matthews and Anderson 1989, Romero et al. 2010, Dayer et al. 2013)
  • Heat stress causes a rapid increase in sugar production (up until it shuts down photosynthesis). When the Spanish government decided to allow irrigation, it cited this problem.  They observed that heat stress causes rapid sugar accumulation, but the phenolic components, which give the wine its flavor, consistency, and color developed more slowly.  The result was that growers were forced to let grapes hang longer to achieve phenolic ripeness.  This meant that vineyards that produced 12% alcohol wines in the past, were now producing 14-16% alcohol wines. For those that champion low alcohol wines, this is a problem.
  • Vineyards come into production slower. It can take as long as 5 years for a dry farmed vineyard to achieve full production, versus 2-3 years for irrigated vines. This must be taken into consideration when determining startup costs.
  • Another economic consideration is yield. While decreased yield may increase quality, if the increase in grape prices doesn’t compensate, it can be disastrous. Philip Coturri, who runs a vineyard management company Enterprise Vineyards that specializes in organic farming said “As an organic farmer, I’m in demand. I pay my workers between $10 to $12 an hour. To do that I must produce a consistent 2.5 to 3 tons an acre. On so many of these properties if I dry-farmed them, I’d get 1.5 to 2 tons. It’s a matter of sustainability.”
  • Small berry size is great for red grapes due to the increased skin/fruit ratio, but there aren’t many advantages to small berry size for white grapes.
  • Heat stress can shut down some vines. Pat Rohan, who runs a vineyard management company and does some dry farming says, “When we get three or four days of 100°F heat, we need to water Barbera. When Barbera shuts down, it’s done. In contrast, Zinfandel will shut down and come back.”
  • Too little water can cause grapes to raisinate. This can change the taste of the wine dramatically.  It also takes additional labor or equipment to remove raisenated grapes from the bins before fermentation.
  • Dry farming techniques require a lot of cultivation. That is part of the process of creating the “dry mulch” that retains water.  For hillside vineyards, erosion can be exacerbated.  For dry farmers who otherwise farm conventionally, this can lead to an increased emission of nitrous oxide, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.  This isn’t nearly as much of a problem for organic growers.



  • There is marketing value in dry farming. It is a way to stand out in a crowded wine market.  As mentioned above, there is an opportunity to charge more for the grapes.  Tom Holdener, of Macchia Winery in Lodi says that he prefers to buy dry farmed grapes.  He said, “Grapes from dry farmed and deficit-irrigated vineyards have good flavors, and I think dry-farmed fruit generally tastes better…. we know that the crop level will probably be in balance in relation to the growing season, and we don’t have to ask the grower to drop crop.”
  • Global warming may increase water scarcity and encourage dry farming. As water becomes scarcer and more expensive, there should be a boom in dry farming in areas where it is physically and economically possible.  In Oregon, most of the growing regions receive as much as 40 inches of rain a year.  There will be pressure to convert to dry farming.


  • Global warming won’t be an across the board positive for dry farming. In southern France, the droughts of 2003, 2005, and 2006 had a huge impact on the industry, particularly in the south of the country. Even with irrigation, the producers have faced water rationing.  The problems this created have resulted in a decrease in plantings as farmers have pulled vines.  The number of hectares under vine has dropped 11% since the year 2000.  The is particularly noticeable in Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the southern Rhone valley.  Marginal areas for dry farming may become areas where it is no longer possible at all.
  • Extended droughts seem to be occurring more frequently. Dry farmed vineyards that are viable with a year or two of drought may not physically or economically survive a 5-year drought.
  • If grape costs don’t rise to support dry farming, it may not be economically feasible. Dick Cooper of Cooper Vineyards in Amador says, “Generally, given the costs for production in this area, if you’re not producing 4 tons per acre and getting at least $1,500 per ton, you aren’t going to make it.”  There are some grape varietals that just won’t justify that price.

Irrigation SWOT


  • Irrigation gives the grower options. If there is sufficient rainfall, don’t turn it on.  If there is a drought, you have water for as long as your water supply holds out.  If you want to practice regulated deficit irrigation (RDI), you have that option.  If it looks like frost, you have options. Steve Thomas is the vineyard manager of the 600-acre Kunde Estate in Kenwood, of which 100 acres are dry-farmed. Thomas said that even if he was able to convert to dry farming he would keep the pipes, which cost $1,600 an acre, as insurance and for applying vineyard treatments such as nutrients, fertilizers and pesticides through the system.
  • Irrigation permits “growers to adjust water supply to control shoot growth, manipulate fruit composition, and conserve ir­rigation water” (Chaves et al. 2010, Keller 2010).
  • The majority of the world’s grape production regions are in regions where there is water stress. This may be seasonally dry summers where summer rainfall is not enough to compensate for evapotranspiration.  It may be areas prone to drought. It may be vineyards in desert climates like Mendoza.  Irrigation allows those areas to make wine consistently. Cantina Pizzolato in the Veneto region of Italy says, “The local agriculture is based on the use of irrigation. During this 2017 production year the regions that are not yet allowed to use irrigation have lost about 30% of production.”
  • Irrigation has helped with the 20th Century explosion of good quality, inexpensive wine. Temperature controlled fermentation and mechanical harvesters are probably the two most important legs of this stool, but the inexpensive wines from California’s Central Valley or Southeast Australia depend on irrigation.  These may not be connoisseur favorites, but they are a key part in the democratization of wine.
  • Some people prefer shallow roots. I’m not a huge fan of the concept, but UC Davis viticulture and enology professor Larry E. Williams likes them. “If you’re a grape grower, you want to have that vine dependent on what you do so you can manipulate them,” says Williams, whose academic work focuses on irrigation management. Williams further explained: “Since the vine is getting most of its water from the drip system, then a grape grower has greater control on how much the vine gets water.”
  • Irrigation allows growers to achieve greater vine density. This sounds like a way to increase yield, and it can do that, but it is more about emulating Bordeaux & Burgundy.  Before the rise of irrigation in Napa, vines were planted at 450 vines per acre.  They now are able to reach up to 2,500 vines per acre, which is more like the tight spacing in Bordeaux and Burgundy.  There is an idea that the density forces the vines to compete for nutrients & promotes higher quality.  I don’t know if that’s true or if it is just a case of looking at how good wine is in those regions and then imitating what they do, but that’s rampant in this discussion (they don’t irrigate in Bordeaux & they have great wine, so dry farming must be the key to great wine).
  • Irrigation helps produce the ripe style of wine that is currently popular. “Remember eucalyptus and green bean flavors?” asks Philip Coturri, “Those were due to unripe grapes. To get today’s super-ripe flavors the vines need hydration. Irrigations produce a very different type of wine. Irrigation is a tool for extended ripening.”
  • Evidence for water dilution of berries is anecdotal rather than scientific. It appears that it is based on rainfall in Europe rather than drip irrigation. “The evidence in favor of a “berry dilution” effect of late-season water supply seems to come from production regions where high water supply is associated with rainfall rather than irrigation. During rainfall or overhead sprinkler irrigation, ripening grape berries may absorb water through their skin” (Becker and Knoche 2011). “It is unknown, however, whether the berries also import excess water that has been taken up by the roots following drip or flood irrigation. Fur­ther, it remains unclear whether excess water close to harvest may lead to an increase in berry size and whether this may alter wine composition.” (Keller, Romero, Gohil, Smithyman, Riley, Casassa, & Harbertson)


  • Irrigation can waste precious water. Dave Runsten said, “We’re over-irrigating a lot of crops in California”
  • Some argue that it leads to additional work in the winery to correct problems caused by overwatering. Thibaut Scholasch, of Fruition Sciences in Emeryville say that not only is too much water used in vineyards, but that it also impacts the costs in the winemaking process. He thinks it can lead to weaker flavors, less productive vineyards because they require severe cropping to achieve ripeness.
  • Irrigation encourages shallow root systems. Although Professor Williams likes a shallow root system, many believe that deeper root systems lead to healthier vines. It certainly gives them more protection if the irrigation supply runs dry during a drought.  For those who believe in a direct link between soil minerals and mineral uptake in the vines, deep roots would be preferred.  It may also be that the microbes that are part of the terroir are more completely accessed with deeper roots.


  • Irrigation allows the practice of regulated deficit irrigation (RDI), also called partial root zone drying. There are different approaches to this practice.  One system is to withhold water from the vines at particular times in the growing season to reduce vigor while watering at other times as needed.  It also can mean applying water to the roots on one side of a vine, but not on the other side.  This causes the vine to promote concentrated fruit growth because the vine is essentially tricked into thinking it is stressed and needs to put out berries, without actually damaging the vine.   Under RDI, less water is applied than a vineyard loses to evapotranspiration during a portion of the growing season. Deficit irrigation may result in red wine with more fruit and less vegetal aromas, more anthocyanin pigments, and sometimes lower astringency” (Matthews et al. 1990, Chapman et al. 2005, Castellarin et al. 2007a). “Moderate water deficit in vineyards is generally associated with desirable changes in fruit composition compared with fruit produced under abundant water availability” (Chaves et al. 2007, Keller 2005). “The smaller berry size due to water deficit is often cited as the main reason for such improve­ments, but water deficit may also alter the biosynthesis of quality-determining compounds independently of berry size” (Castellarin et al. 2007a, 2007b, Roby et al. 2004). “Increased light interception by the clusters due to lower shoot vigor under water deficit may be responsible for some of these changes” (Castellarin et al. 2007b, Chaves et al. 2007, Romero et al. 2013).
  • Irrigation is expanding. In 2016 France began to expand the approval of irrigation depending on the time of year and the region.  It is generally approved between June 15th & August 15th.  For AC vineyards, it must be sanctioned by the authorities for that particular appellation.  The driver behind this decision seems to have been global warming.  Oddly enough, they do not allow the installation of permanent drip irrigation.  This means that they are promoting a much more wasteful form of spray irrigation, but that’s something for another day.  In Italy, irrigation is permitted in at least 30 AOC vineyard areas.  Roughly 26% of all wine vineyards are irrigated now, with as much as 85% of the vineyards in Tuscany irrigated.
  • Irrigation systems with an over the vine capacity can protect against frost. Ted Goldammer wrote in the Grape Grower’s Handbook “Over-vine sprinkler systems involve spraying the vines with a fine mist of water as the temperature falls to freezing. This water then freezes encasing the canes and buds in ice. As the water changes to ice on the surface of the vine, it releases a small amount of heat (known as latent heat) that protects the vine from any damage. Latent heat prevents the surface temperature of the vine tissue from falling below 32 degrees F (0°C). Conversely, when ice melts, or water evaporates, the temperature around the water is cooled. Water evaporating from the surface of a vine will draw heat from that vine.”
  • Irrigation may be a response to global warming to preserve growing regions that might otherwise fail. Michelle M. Moyer, PhD. Associate Professor, Dept. of Horticulture, Statewide Viticulture Extension Specialist at Washington State University wrote, “Our researchers would argue that reliance on dryland farming will ultimately result in less resilience to climate change. Irrigation is a tool growers use (often in dryland areas as well, to make it through years of drought) to help mitigate inconsistent weather patterns.”


  • Global warming may make irrigation less reliable. Growers who have been dependent on wells may be out of luck when the well runs dry and the shallow roots of their vines can’t compensate for the loss of water.  Water will become more precious as the earth becomes drier.  The cost of water for irrigation will increase and even then, its availability may decrease.  Brendan Lowe writes that this year in South Africa “The water sources most wine producers in the area rely on for irrigation have been rationed for months, with quotas cut by as much as 80 percent, forcing producers to move up vine replacement schedules, introduce water-saving devices in cellars, and use water for only the highest-income blocks—if there’s water left to use at all.”  This isn’t a theoretical issue that may or may never happen.  It is occurring right now.
  • Much less concerning is that irrigated vines may be at a marketing disadvantage compared to dry farmed vines. If the price of dry farmed grapes/wines climbs high enough, then all of the money invested in irrigation won’t pay for itself.


Obviously, this is a complex issue.  There are those who want to make it black and white and say that one side is always right and one side is always wrong, but it just isn’t that easy.  If someone tells you that everything should absolutely be done one way, you probably want to get a second opinion (especially if they tell you that irrigation always increases sugar/alcohol).

I think that the best answer is probably somewhere in between.  I love wines from areas like Mendoza Argentina and I want them to be able to continue to make them.  That requires irrigation.  What I really want, is for growers to use the most efficient systems possible.  The old systems that they are using in France aren’t a viable long-term solution.  Underground or drip irrigation is where anyone who irrigates needs to migrate.

I also think that people who are consistently watering despite receiving 30 or more inches per year are wasting a precious resource.  If you use the minimal amount of water to produce the best quality wine, I think everyone should be happy.  Irrigation doesn’t have to mean high yields, water waste, and inferior quality wine.  Done correctly, it can help create delicious wine.

I think research and experiments are necessary to find the best ways to grow grapes using the minimal amount of water.  That means looking at everything from root stocks, to varietals, to organic practices, to trellising options, to tons of things that I’m not sharp enough to know.  Most vineyard managers accept climate change as a reality.  We need to prepare for grape growing in a hotter, drier world.  If we do that correctly, our grandchildren can toast that success with a nice glass of wine.


I looked at a ton of sources to get my head around this.  Here are some in particular that I referenced.  Not all of these really made it into what I wrote, but they informed me along the way.  There are plenty of other sources I have read or listened to over the years, but these are the ones that I specifically looked at for this.  I apologize if I forgot someone.


https://modernfarmer.com/2015/12/dry-farming-wine/  The Benefits of Dry-Farming Wine—For the Palate and the Planet By Hannah Wallace on December 21, 2015


http://www.wine-grape-growing.com/wine_grape_growing/vineyard_frost_protection/vineyard_frost_protection_active.htm Vineyard Frost Protection

http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.wawinegrowers.org/resource/resmgr/Winegrowers_Water_Availabili.pdf Washington Wine Growers Water Availability Policy Statement

https://daily.sevenfifty.com/how-south-africas-wine-industry-plans-to-survive-the-water-crisis/?utm_campaign=SevenFifty%20Daily%20Weekly%20Digest&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=61290652&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8xGseD5Hz94l5IWA1wje30jFJQ6eXpiiWlLyPa8mEsxBCGA_AHI2ZX4Hh4OpEKWNhAxtoE8N1lnv247ykeRMhUIulsEQ&_hsmi=61290529 How South Africa’s Wine Industry Plans to Survive the Water Crisis

https://oeno-one.eu/article/view/1699 Strategic irrigation management in Australian vineyards Peter R. Dry, B. R. Loveys, M. G. Mccarthy, Manfred Stoll

http://quench.me/longform/maritime-climate-affects-some-of-the-worlds-most-coveted-wine-regions/ September 15th, 2017/ By Treve Ring Maritime climate affects some of the world’s most coveted wine regions

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/01/110111-oldest-wine-press-making-winery-armenia-science-ucla/ Earliest Known Winery Found in Armenian Cave By James Owen, for National Geographic News Published January 12, 2011


https://www.guildsomm.com/public_content/features/articles/b/gregory_jones/posts/climate-grapes-and-wine Climate, Grapes, and Wine Terroir and the Importance of Climate to Winegrape Production Gregory Jones 12 Aug 2015

http://www.growingproduce.com/fruits/how-to-dry-farm-winegrapes/ Kendall Lambert is the Water Program Coordinator for Community Alliance with Family Farmers.

https://www.winesandvines.com/news/article/115248/Economics-of-Dry-Farming-Winegrapes 04.21.2013  Economics of Dry Farming Winegrapes Amador and Lodi, Calif., growers discuss practices for quality wines and water conservation   by Jon Tourney

http://agwaterstewards.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Turning_water_into_wine.pdf Turning water into wine To water grapevines or not — the roots of the wine industry’s next great controversy Alice Feiring, Special to The Chronicle Friday, June 1, 2007

http://agwaterstewards.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/A_new_path_to_using_less_water.pdf In Napa, a new path to using less water Jon Bonné Sunday, March 21, 2010

http://www.caff.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/CAFF-Presentation.pdf Dry Farming Wine Grapes in California Dave Runsten Community Alliance with Family Farmers August 7, 2015


Irrigation Management of Winegrapes with a Limited Water Supply In: ucmanagedrought.ucdavis.edu Terry Prichard

https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/irrigation-now-official-in-france  Jancis Robinson 11 Apr 2007

http://irrigazette.com/en/news/irrigation-grapevines-europe-update-existing-legislation The Irrigation of grapevines in Europe – an update on existing legislation By Fleur Martin, Irrigazette

https://www.bkwine.com/news/irrigate-or-not-in-vineyards/ To irrigate or not to irrigate in the vineyard? by Britt Karlsson on September 4, 2014

http://www.lodigrowers.com/considerations-for-dry-farming-wine-grapes/ Lodi Grape Growers Association Stan Grant

https://naturalmerchants.com/organicwines/dry-farmed-wine/  Ed Fields CEO Natural Merchants

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-dry-farm-wine-20141123-story.html  Drought revives ‘forgotten art’ at wineries: Farming without irrigation By David Pierson Nov 22, 2014






Deficit Irrigation Alters Grapevine Growth, Physiology, and Fruit Microclimate study by Markus Keller,1* Pascual Romero,2 Hemant Gohil,3,4 Russell P. Smithyman,5 William R. Riley,5 L. Federico Casassa,6,7 and James F. Harbertson6

Talks by Gregory Gambetta Sciences Agro professor of viticulture working as part of both Bordeaux Sciences Agro and the Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin.

Michelle M. Moyer, PhD. Associate Professor, Dept. of Horticulture Statewide Viticulture Extension Specialist Washington State University – IAREC via email





Harvest options Hand versus Mechanical Harvest & beyond.

10 Mar

I needed to write this up for a class, so I figured I might as well post it.  It’s lengthy & may be best for wine geeks.  I hope it does a decent job of discussing hand versus machine harvest & a few other options for vineyard managers & winemakers.

One of the most important steps in producing quality wine is the actual harvest.  Picking the grapes at the right time for the wine desired and getting the grapes to the winery in a timely fashion, in the best shape for the wine desired, and at the optimal temperature is crucial.  There are many options available to a vineyard owner and the options they choose will impact the finished wine. These options break down broadly into questions of timing and method of harvest.

The timing of the harvest depends on a number of factors including legal restrictions, type of wine being produced, winery capacity, and the local weather.  Certain wine regions have specified start dates for harvest. In France the 17 wine regions each decide on a “day 1” of harvest for their region and this date is put out with the publication of the Banns of the grape harvest.  This date generally corresponds to 100 days from the first flowering in the vineyards of the region.  Wineries begin with the end in mind.  That means the type of wine being produced is crucial to timing harvest.  While there may be a theoretical optimal phenological ripeness for grapes, actual optimal ripeness depends on the winery’s planned finished wine.  For a sparkling wine, acid may be favored over ripeness/sugar, so the wine may be picked earlier.  For a full-bodied Zinfandel, the grapes will probably hang weeks longer than for a subtler wine made using the same grape.  In Germany, the difference in wine category depends on sugar content and that may inform the timing of harvest. Weather also may impact the options available to the vineyard owner.  If the weather turns unexpectedly hot, harvest may be advanced to preserve acid.  If there is a brief rain, harvest may be delayed to allow the grapes to return to balance rather than picking water swollen grapes.  If a huge amount of rain is forecast, harvest may be accelerated.  Prior to harvest we always used to have a detailed calendar with dates for each grape from each vineyard that we would press for ourselves or for custom crush customers.  When heavy rain or hail was coming our way, that calendar would go out the window as we rushed to save the harvest and pick what we could handle as quickly as we could handle it.  This rush to harvest highlighted a final way in which timing can be influenced by something other than phenological ripeness.  Even the largest wineries have limits to how many grapes they can process per hour and how much wine their fermentation vessels can hold.  Lack of tank space in a smaller winery can lead to delays in harvest while waiting to move wine from a fermentation vessel into another type of storage vessel.

Before discussing the advantages and disadvantages of mechanical versus hand harvesting, it should be acknowledged that sometimes no option is available to the vineyard owner.  If you have a monopole in Burgundy, you are required to hand harvest.  For Bonnezeaux AOP, Quarts de Chaume AOP, and Coteaux du Layon Chaume Premier Cru, hand harvesting in successive tries in mandated.  This is also the case in Banyuls.  Cremant de Loire, St Chinian Roquebrun, St Chinian Berlou, Corbieres Boutenac, Blanquette de Limoux and many other areas/wines require hand harvesting to comply with the guidelines for the region.

After determining when to harvest, for those who have options, the question becomes how to harvest.  Manual, or hand harvesting and mechanical harvesting are the two options.  Of course, some vineyards will combine methods by hand harvesting the ends of rows, or difficult areas, and mechanically harvesting the rest.  Here are the strengths and weaknesses of these two options.

Hand/Manual Harvesting Hand harvesting is the traditional method of picking grapes and was the only option for thousands of years.  Grape bunches are cut by hand using only hand tools.  These might be as basic as a sharp knife, or as advanced as electric secateurs.


Manual harvesting gives the vineyard manager and the winery greater control.  It allows picking grapes in successive tries, whether this is for production of wines with noble rot, or whether it is just assuring that only ripe grapes are picked.  Manual harvesting requires very little equipment.  For a small vineyard, the investment in secateurs and baskets may be all that is required to bring in the harvest.  Hand harvesting allows for whole cluster pressing, which creates a variety of opportunities.  Hand harvesting is a gentler process than mechanical harvesting.  It should result in fewer broken grapes arriving at the winery.  This can increase the quality of the final wine because only the best grapes go into the wine.  Fewer broken grapes also allows for a longer transport time to the winery without fermentation starting, or red grapes beginning to show color from skin contact.  Manual harvesting also virtually eliminates the problem of matter other than grapes (MOG) entering into the production chain. Finally, manual harvesting works everywhere.  It may be backbreaking work to hand harvest on the hills of Piemonte, the Mosel, or Oregon, but it can be done relatively safely by hand.  Ancient bush vines in Greece or Lodi, or elsewhere can produce wonderful wine, but they must be picked by hand.


Manual harvesting takes more time than mechanical harvesting.  This can negatively impact quality in two different ways.  First, it is harder to pick a vineyard in one night without a large amount of people.  The picking may start at night when the grapes are cool, but may have to continue into the heat of the day.  It is generally preferable for grapes to arrive at the winery cool.  Once grapes have been picked and start to warm, a number of chemical processes will begin.  Not all of them will be good, and microbial growth at this stage may lead to off flavors in the final wine and may require the use of additional SO2 to combat that growth.  The increased time to harvest also means that for some large vineyards, harvest may start when the grapes aren’t quite ripe and then continue until they are overly ripe with the idea that the overall profile will work itself out.  This can lead to lower quality wine.  Timing also becomes a huge issue when inclement weather threatens.  If a storm is rolling in, there is only so much that can be picked by hand and the vineyard may lose enough grapes that they can’t make a profit.  Manual harvesting is also expensive in large vineyards.  It is estimated that, depending on the region, it may cost three times as much to hand harvest.  Finally, on a social scale, grape pickers have historically been exploited.  When small vineyards were harvested by family and friends, this was not a problem.  By the time of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, poor working conditions and poor pay were endemic to the grape industry.  While this is changing, it is still a consideration.  Training is also a factor, since all of the advantages of picking for quality evaporate if the workers can’t tell the difference between good and bad grapes.


Whole clusters obtained through manual harvesting allow for a large range of production techniques.  Carbonic maceration techniques require unbroken grapes.  Champagne permits only hand harvesting for whole bunch processing.  Hand harvesting also presents the opportunity of an initial selection in the vineyard.  This is helpful in producing the best wine and is especially helpful in regions where there are limits on yield.  Hand harvesting allows a winery to leave the vineyard at the proper yield limit rather than just picking everything & then having to discard bad grapes at the winery.  This means that the winery can produce more & better wine under the same yield limits.  Hand harvesting also makes it easier to produce quality rose’ wine & blanc du noir wines, including sparkling wine.  Since the grapes should arrive as whole grapes and whole clusters, the winery has more control over the introduction of skin contact.  That can lead to higher quality wine.  Generally speaking, hand picking grapes allows the winemaker to have all possible options at the winery.  If they want skin contact or no skin contact, they make the choice.  If they want stem inclusion, they can choose at the winery.  If they want to whole press all, or part, of a lot, they make the decision.  Finally, wines made with hand picked grapes have a better perception in the marketplace.  They are associated with higher quality and that means that they can sometimes command a higher price.


Labor for picking grapes is climbing in price and the labor pool is shrinking.  Finding 120,000 people to pick grapes in Champagne for three weeks a year gets more difficult every year.  In Portugal, there has been a population shift from the country to the city and this has decreased the available pool of people to work harvest.  Immigrant work for harvest has become more and more important over the years.  In Europe there are political issues related to refugees and that has impacted the attitude and opportunities for immigrant labor.  In the United States, the government has traditionally turned a blind eye to illegal immigrants who have been migrant workers picking grapes and other crops.  As the Mexican economy has improved, the pool of available workers has shrunk.  To compound the problem, the U.S. government is stepping up raids of illegal immigrants.  In some cases, this has led to crops rotting in the field.  This hasn’t happened yet in the grape industry, but there is concern that it will.  A new threat to the supply of workers has arisen in states like California where marijuana production has been legalized.  Marijuana producers pay as much as three times the going rate for picking grapes.  The work also is indoors, with portions of it air conditioned.  There are more harvests per year, and some marijuana companies are offering medical benefits.  The net impact is that it is harder to find people to pick grapes in areas like Mendocino and the people that you find must be paid more money, which increases the cost of the final wine.

Mechanical Harvesting  This is mechanized picking of grapes.  It generally involves over the row harvesters that drive through the vineyard using rubber or fiberglass rods to shake fruit off of the vines and deposit it into trailing bins.  These bins can be very large or very small depending on the machine & the wishes of the vineyard/winery.


Since the 1960’s, mechanical harvesting, along with temperature-controlled tanks has been probably the greatest contributor to the advancement of the wine industry.  It has allowed the industry to expand into areas where the labor pool did not allow manual grape harvesting (Paarl South Africa, major areas of Chile, Argentina, & Texas.  It has allowed the industry to continue in regions like Portugal where the traditional labor pool has decreased.  It has allowed mass production of wine in areas like the Central Valley in California. The lower price of production and the speed of harvest has contributed to there being more technically sound and affordable wine available now than at any time in history.

Mechanical harvesting can allow the grower to harvest at exactly the right moment of ripeness for their wine and to pick it and deliver it to the winery cool from the vineyard.  Mechanical harvesting is at least five times faster than manual harvesting, generally harvesting an acre in slightly under an hour.  While some manual harvest it done at night, it is difficult & takes even longer than usual.  Mechanical harvesters are well lit, and since they just follow the rows, a well-trained operator can harvest just as quickly at night as during the day.  Newer vineyards are often planted using GPS systems & the harvester can have the same GPS coordinates plugged in.  That means that an actual operator is barely required for some of the newest generation of harvesters.  Newer harvesters have optical sorting capability, they are gentler on the grapes, which means that rip grapes fall and green grapes stay attached to the vine. Mechanical harvesting is improving all of the time, while manual harvesting is probably at its peak efficiency.


There are some places where mechanical harvesting is not physically possible, or where it is dangerous.  It isn’t impossible to work the slopes of the Mosel with a small mechanical harvester, but there is a real chance or rollover and death.  Other areas are just too steep to use them at all.  Mechanical harvesters can only make so tight of a turn.  In areas where vines have been planted close to a house, winery, or physical barrier, the turn radius may be too tight to use a harvester.  In those cases, a portion of the vineyard will still need to be hand-picked.  Vine spacing and vine training also can make mechanized harvesting difficult or impossible.  If vineyard rows are planted too closely together, the rows will have to be hand-picked.  I was recently in a vineyard in Argentina where they are experimenting with tight spacing and close rows due to overly fertile soil.  They may solve their vigor issue, but the vineyard must be worked completely by hand.  Bush vines cannot currently be picked mechanically.  While pergola training systems are rarer than they were, it should be noted that they are not conducive to mechanical harvesting.

Most mechanical harvesters shake the fruit until it drops off the vine.  This means that stems are not included, which means that carbonic maceration is not a possibility, nor is whole cluster fermentation.  This takes away options from the winemaker and can limit the quality of the wine that can be made.

Older mechanical harvesters are pretty brutal to the fruit.  The aggressive shaking broke grapes.  That meant that while the grapes waited for transport to the winery, they were exposed to oxygen and the fruit was getting skin contact.  That lead to oxidation, browning of grapes, loss of aromatics, or oddly changed aromatics, and bacterial growth.  It is also impossible to make a blanc du noir or a decent rose’ if the grapes have traveled a long distance floating in juice from the grapes that have broken open.

There has been a belief that mechanical harvesters allow for more MOG.  Even with quality harvesters, there seems to be an increase in insects and worms that are harvested.  This can lead to growth of harmful bacteria in the wine and off flavors.

Many mechanical harvesters just pick all of the fruit.  That means that they get the good with the bad, the moldy, & the under ripe.

While mechanical harvesters cost less to pick an acre of grapes than manual harvest, that is only the operating cost.  The upfront cost of a mechanical harvester is expensive, with the newest versions costing as much as $400,00 U.S. dollars.  Of course, used harvesters are always for sale at lower prices, but older harvesters are more damaging to grapes and have other limitations.  Renting harvesters or using a service are options, but then you are at the mercy of someone else’s timetable and are dependent on their skill and their maintenance capabilities.


Mechanical harvesting has huge opportunities on the horizon.  Each generation of harvester seems to be better than the next.  New systems like the New Holland Opti-grape harvester destem fruit, then use an optical sorter to send grapes to the proper bin based on programmed parameters.  The Optimum from Pellenec supposedly brings in 99% clean fruit, which is probably better than what hand picking manages.  As mechanical harvesters become more accepted, it is likely that vineyard managers will plant vineyards with them in mind.  In Portugal the Socalcoes were designed with mechanization in mind.  Row spacing for mechanical harvesting will be a consideration for large producers.  As the labor pool shrinks, more regions will have to allow mechanical harvesting in order to bring in their harvest.


The largest threat to mechanical harvesting may be perception. No one like to admit they mechanically harvest.  There is a perception that hand harvested fruit is better and that wines produced that way are worth more money.  This perception probably limits the spread of mechanization more than some of the physical limitations.  There may also be an outcry against mechanization because it cuts jobs.  That doesn’t currently appear to be a problem, but it absolutely could become one in the future.


Vineyard management and wine making is not a one size fits all proposition.  There are different options for grape picking depending on the type of wine you are making, the weather, the topography, the rules under which you produce wine, and other subtler reasons.  Vineyard managers and wine makers will have to choose the best option for themselves and will need to consider all of the components above.