Dry Farming: Pushing the Limits

By forcing our vines to ripen grapes without irrigation, Stolpman Vineyards achieves naturally concentrated, vibrant flavors. Our dry farming technique might be the most important element of our viticultural methodology.

In the 2012-2014 drought years, we reverted to Michel Roland’s definition of dry farming: no vines are irrigated after fruit set when tiny grapes appear. Without rainfall in Santa Barbara County from April through harvest, the grapes are never diluted.

In the drought years. Ruben gave most vines drip irrigation over night during the winter to simulate a nice storm front. Ruben only turns the winter irrigation system on during waning moons, when lack of lunar gravity allows water to penetrate deeper down to the tap roots.

2015: El Nino

This winter we barely broke 10 inches of rain in Ballard Canyon, short of our historic average of 14. While far from the El Nino deluge we hoped for, at least we received more than the 6.5 inches of rain received in each of the past two winters.

With just a bit more moisture in the ground, Ruben didn’t winter irrigate the middle-aged vines, forcing them to dig in and fight for wines of character.

Pushing the Envelope

Back before the drought, we used to farm organic vegetables on our bottom 14 acres. Earlier this year, we planted wide-spaced bush vines on two of the lower acres.

Irrigation hoses are conspicuously missing from the isolated posts. This block will be truly dry farmed, no winter irrigation when the vines are young, and no “Plan B” during a drought.

This block serves as a test to see how vines will behave with absolutely no irrigation.

They will certainly take a long time to grow. We foresee stunted shoots, and skinny head pruned stumps for at least the next few years. Down the line, even in wet winters, the vines will be very low yielding.

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Layout

Low density spacing will give roots the space to spread out and collect water from a larger swath of ground. We spaced the vines 9 feet apart from one another, the widest spacing on the property.

The vines will become bush vines, pruned low every year, without any wires to train the canopy along rows. Vertically shoot positioned training techniques are designed to spread the vine out for more potential fruit. Without irrigation, these vines won’t have the energy to grow shoots down a wire and ripen a cluster at every position. Head pruning will allow for more conservative growth.

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Varietal Selection Alternating Rows of Grenache and Mourvedre

This year we invested heavily in high density Mourvedre plantings at the top of the property. Down at the bottom dry-farmed block, we decided to alternate Grenache and Mourvedre every row. This approach gives us the option to either harvest the two varietals together for co-fermentation (high sugar high acid Grenache and low sugar low acid Mourvedre compliment one another for an easy fermentation process) or if the two don’t ripen together, we can harvest every other row separately.

Pete

About Pete

Pete Stolpman has led Stolpman Vineyards since 2009 and has served as the President of Ballard Canyon Winegrowers Alliance since the AVA was approved in 2013. Prior to taking over the family operation, Pete worked in the wholesale side of the business at Henry Wine Group and the winemaking side in Barossa Valley and Chianti Classico. Today, Pete focuses on experimentation in both the vineyard and winery. Pete believes his new own-rooted, high-density Syrah and Mourvedre vineyards will once again redefine the quality threshold at Stolpman. Outside of the Stolpman label, Pete and Rajat Parr bottle estate grown Trousseau, Trousseau Pet’Nat, and Chenin Blanc under the Combe Label. Pete also partners with Ruben and Maria Solorzano to make fresh and lively wines called Para Maria.