Sunday, July 24, 2011

Eocwinegrowing Conference: Dry Farming, Dark Horse Vineyards

Day 2 of the 3rd annual Ecogrowing Conference took place at Dark Horse Vineyards on River Road a mile from Ukiah. (I'll have more stories from Day 1 of the conference soon.) Day 1 was an all day indoor speaker and panel-packed day attended by more than 100 people. Day 2 drew a much smaller group for a hands on half day of dry farming demonstration and informal talks.

Dry farming was more widely practiced before the advent of irrigation. Irrigation has primarily been used to increase yields, but today's artisan winemakers often want smaller yields, that have more flavorful fruit, said Glenn McGourty, Farm Advisor, UCCE.

Here's a brief photo overview of the conference highlights:

Heath Dolan of Dark Horse Vineyards opened the conference on dry farming with a tour of Dark Horse vineyard
This is where Dark Horse, which is biodynamic, mixes and stores their preps; the water fall is a biodynamic water dynamizer
Dark Horse has the most beautiful hedge rows I have ever seen; they were planted and designed by Alan York early in his career (his latest project was making Sting's new Tuscan winery which is biodynamic)
Plants were selected for a variety of reasons, including attracting bees
The group learned about Dark Horse's dry farming and biodynamic practices
Dark Horse makes about half of its own compost, using both manure and grape pomace; the rest is purchased from an organic dairy
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Heath Dolan shows the group his equipment
Terri Harrington from Dry Creek Valley is working on CAFF projects and educates wine grape growers on dry farming
Left/center is John Chiarito, of Chiarito Vineyards, who dry farms unique southern Italian varieties (Negramaoro and Nero d'Avola) as well as Zin and Petite Syrah. Committed to dry farming, he has no backup irrigation in his vineyards.

Joe Votek, President, Loma Del Sol and member of CAFF, talked about dry farming at his Sonoma site; "we have no water and never have," he said of the mountain top vineyard properties he manages. 

Mendocino County Farm Bureau head Devon Jones brought the group up to date on the forthcoming regulatory issues with the water board, which have taken a turn away from collaborative problem solving and toward agency regulation (which is not a good sign)

Glenn McGourty demonstrated the use of a pressure bomb to measure plant moisture (to indicate when to irrigate)

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