What Exactly are ‘Dry-Land’ Vines?

I was recently told with obvious pride by a winemaker that he grew only ‘dry-land’ vines. What exactly did he mean by this, and why should it be important in his wine making?

‘Dry-land’ vineyards are those that are not irrigated and must rely only on natural rainfall. In drier regions like the Cape’s West Coast, this can result in grape berries that are smaller than those from irrigated vineyards, particularly in low rainfall years. Smaller berries usually mean more intense flavours than those found in big, juicy, irrigated grapes. This, in turn, means the wines will have more intense, concentrated flavour.

Modern viticulture is changing this thinking, and some winemakers are finding that they can achieve intense flavours with bigger yields, by irrigating at specific periods during the growing cycle, and allowing the vines to be water-stressed at other times. As in almost every branch of farming, theories come and go with each generation. Maybe dry-land vineyards will come back into fashion one day.

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