From Drought to El Niño - Water Impact in the Vineyards

Kristina Werner, Winemaker

The hills are green and the vineyards are striped with yellow mustard here in Sonoma County, thanks to the early (and welcomed) El Niño rains.  Although there’s still a long road ahead to complete drought relief, we are starting off the 2016 growing season with flowing streams and replenished soils.

Sonoma County typically receives the majority of its rainfall between the months of October and March.  The rest of the year remains dry, reducing the risk of rot and fungal disease in the vineyard during the most critical times of the growing season.  During these dry months, we are able to control the amount of water that the vines get through drip irrigation.  In the past few years, the wine industry has made a huge effort in water conservation and more technology has become available to determine how much water a vine needs at a given time.  At Arrowood, we use several of these technologies to help make our irrigation decisions.  In fact, a few of our vineyards are even “dry farmed,” meaning that they do not receive any water from irrigation.  What determines if a vineyard can be dry farmed or not?  Well, it’s very site-dependent: soil, climate, vine age, crop load and grape variety all impact the amount of water a particular vineyard needs.

Discussing pruning on a rainy day on Sonoma Mountain.

For Cabernet Sauvignon, the amount and timing for irrigation is especially important because of its impact on berry size.  Smaller berries produce more skin than watery pulp, which means more flavors coming from the skin and more concentration.  So when you hear that wine is made in the vineyard, there is quite a bit of truth to that.  From rainy winter walks in the vineyard to tasting the berries ripen in the fall, I’m always thinking about how to get the characteristics in the fruit that I ultimately want in the wine. 

And as for what Mother Nature has planned next for the rest of 2016, we’ll have to wait and see! 

--Kristina