Lets talk irrigation...formerly part of the B-C thread

This really fills me with joy.

I have not tried the B-C Cargasacchi Pinot, but last night I tried their B-C Melville Vineyard Pinot; it didn’t suck. On the other hand, I visited Peter and the Cargasacchi Winery at an open house in the spring and bought a bunch of his 2007 Cargasacchi vineyard, and the 06 Cargasacchi Jalama vineyard designates, and I can tell you that Peter’s were great!!!

From your own observations you already know that sunlight triggers certain genes to express themselves that affect synthesis and accumulation of phenolics and flavonoids. And as you also already know it’s not neccessarily a good thing every time, every season, every vineyard… It reduces greeeeen character and helps with lignification here without burning the fruit.

Another interesting thing is going in to leaf pull , before flowereing completes, to induce shatter and looser clusters. pileon If early leaf pulling doesn’t make you nervous, another thing in that realm of swinging for the fences with the possibility of striking out-game over, is to (about the middle of bloom) go through with a foliar spray with at least some potassium bicarbonate as a pm eradicant, and screw with the bloom… [suicide.gif]I do that to induce millerandage and it probably would be considered bordering on lunacy? [thankyou.gif] (I lay down extra buds to compensate for the lighter cluster weights.)

The idea of messing with the flowers at bloom derived from actually going through after set with steel forks that I had widened the tines, and raking the clusters to knock some berries off. That derived from contemplating a DRC myth(?) that was told to Mike Bonaccorsi in Burgundy and then to me, but that I now think was not true, due to the labor intense character of the excercise and the difficulties posed. Even right at the completion of set, it is hard to manually loosen clusters without damaging many of the clusters…

Steve and Greg have a few other things that they have shared with me, but that are “their bag” of techniques that I am not at liberty to share. Which I have no idea how they figured out because some of them are very counter-intuitive.

I’m not much of a craps player. Some of my friends are and when I hang with them, I basically re-learn the game (and drink lots of cocktails.) Hard way bets in craps are cool and make a greater metaphor.

But Emilio, I am only doing it to make better wine. If irrigating made the wine better I have no hesitation to give the vines a shot of water. For me it’s all about what get’s into the fermenter. Farming is an intervention. The vines are not growing on trees in the forest primeval anymore, they are caged in steel trellises and I cut them back to what I think will be an appropriate number of buds every winter. It’s about making the best wine possible in the vineyard, not the methodology.


Great stuff, as always.
Re: the above “myth”… surely expensive and difficult to do properly. But are you going on any other info when you say that DRC doesn’t do it?
I’ve heard the same rumor, and know beyond a doubt that a couple of estates (non-Burgundian) do this regularly with acceptable results.

Re: irrigation… are there any practices you employ periodically that you think might yield lesser results short-term (as judged by, for instance, what ends up in this year’s fermentor) but are carried out with an eye towards long-term vineyard health and wine quality?
I think many naturalistas view the act of NOT irrigating as possibly of that kind.


Yes of course. By irrigating to make “btter wine” you are messing with the chance for the vine to adapt to its environment.
Peter is a great grower of noble origins but young age. He also likes Fukuoka so it’s only a matter of time…

Actually, I believed Fukuoka recommended using croton trees to decide when irrigation was necessary for other crops. He recommended trench irrigation and was a believer in minimal but not non-existent irrigation. Emilio, you need to be careful in taking your own views and giving them unwarranted creedence by implying they belong to someone else.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

I’m not sure that it follows that a vine adapted to its environment makes better wine. A vine doesn’t care about wine. It does things in response to its environment to guarantee its survival. Given the un-natural environment man creates when creating a vineyard, why would adding a little water at times be looked at as undesireable? It really makes no sense to me whatsoever.

Why not?
Yes, it’s a given that both viticulture and winemaking require intervention.
Is that then to be the basis for a justification for intervention without limits?

I’ve never understood the argument you’re proposing, Brian.


PS: I don’t necessarily know that unirrigated vines will eventually yield “better” wine either.

Emilio’s comment didn’t seem to me to be saying that Fukuoka was specifically suggesting a non-irrigation protocol.
Maybe I read that wrong.

No, he said that if Peter reads Fukuoka he will move towards a non-irrigation protocol. Having read Fukouka, I don’t believe that is true as that is not what I have found that Fukuoka recommends.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

So here’s the math behind the metaphor. If you roll a four, the combinations can be 1-3, 2-2, or 3-1. If you roll an eight, the combos are 2-6, 3-5, 4-4, 5-3, or 6-2. So even though your odds of rolling ANY four are low, IF you roll a four, it’s not that tough to hit the hard way. Conversely, it’s very easy to roll ANY eight, but having it be a hard eight is much less likely. Tough/easy, or easy/tough.

For what it’s worth, the hard ways are considered somewhat of a sucker bet in Vegas.

So if you can use that info, either metaphorically or at the tables, there you go.


I took it more to mean that Peter, since he often speaks of Fukuoka (among others), would be steadily moving in “that direction” (I’ve left this intentionally vague), not that Fukuoka was espousing a non-irrigation protocol.
Regardless of what Emilio meant by his comments, your point is well taken, Adam.
Fukuoka is often associated with a “no irrigation” regime, but that’s a mistake. He thought that flooded field rice cultivation was a wrong-headed notion, yielding rice that was weakened by the process and more reliant on pesticides and chemical fertilizers as a result. But he wasn’t categorically against a judicious use of irrigation. Heck, he didn’t even rule out the use of pesticides in certain extreme cases.
Of course, by the time he left this world he was also of the opinion that farming was not compatible with business, and that no human being could be considered “complete” if they did not farm.

Your PS sums it up - it’s not a given. Hence, why would you strive to make that a goal? It seems to me that many people chase an “ideal” that may not really be that ideal just for the sake of tradition, or out of a misinterpretation or misapplication of information.

What I’d like to know is how the French laws prohibiting irrigation of wine grapes started in the first place. My guess would be that since water is such a critical issue when it comes to growing crops, that a luxury crop like wine grapes would have some limitations placed on it so as not to interfere with food production. Like I said, it’s a guess, but I bet that’s how the laws originated. From there, it was probably noticed that in years where it rained too much, you didn’t get as good fruit, or too much fruit. So the idea of less water = better fruit probably became accepted wisdom. But it’s a very general idea.

And it’s not intervention without limits - who even hinted at that? Anything you do in life should be done with care and thought. You wouldn’t indiscriminately water a vineyard. You do it in response to conditions at the time. That doesn’t mean that some people might not abuse the ability… but if that’s the criteria for judging something, then we’d better outlaw wine drinking because some people abuse that too. [pillow-fight.gif]

Ah, I wish I were as articulate and eloquent as all of you.
What I meant to say is that if Peter embraces minimal farming as a philosophy, he will move toward dry farming grapes. As he would move toward no pesticides, no tilling, no fertilizers……
I’m aware that Fukuoka never directly recommended dry farming but he was mostly talking about non perennial crops (such as rice and barley) and recommended minimal irrigation for those as well.
So what is minimal irrigation for vines? For me it all boils down to what one is trying to achieve. If the goal of the wine grower is to express his/her site (and the weather that comes with each different season) then irrigating is counterproductive as it interferes with the vines adaptation to the site.
Will you get a “better” wine? That is a bit subjective, I’m afraid…
You certainly will get a unique vineyard which will survive generations of winemakers while offering unique fruit that can produce unique wines.

"Beauty is what’s important in wine. Beauty is a product of nature, technology can be used to preserve beauty, but it cannot create it.” Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier

It certainly is not a given that irrigated vines make “better” wines either. Hence why would you strive to make that a (certainly more expensive and invasive) goal?

Personally, I would hope that people don’t actually imagine a methodology (ie., dry farming) is a goal in and of itself. It should be seen as a tool to get you somewhere, not an end in and of itself.
Those who argue for dry farming… what are the goals they’re trying to achieve via such a practice? Probably varies somewhat from person to person, but some of the goals I’ve heard are certainly within the realm of plausibility, and don’t necessarily fight with the science as it currently stands.

What I’d like to know is how the French laws prohibiting irrigation of wine grapes started in the first place…

An interesting theory.
Until you mentioned it, I never would have thought that the prohibitions against irrigation had anything to do with water resource management.
Not sure that I agree with you, as the pedestrian reasons given for laws against irrigation seem to explain things well enough.

And it’s not intervention without limits - who even hinted at that?

Apologies for implying things that you never intended.
I guess I’ve heard too many people arguing that, since winemaking is an intervention in and of itself, what harm can be done by using a little bit of “x”?
That line of reasoning always seems like the start of a real long, very slippery slope.
Given our limited ability to understand the world around us, it seems reasonable and healthy to view any intervention with at least a hint of suspicion.

Well, this begs the definition of “better”.
It’s rather easy to show some of the effects of severe water stress on grapevines, and how that impacts some aspects of vine physiology. But I suspect your definition of the word “better” here goes beyond a simple trial that shows higher soluble solids and better pH/TA balance in the irrigated vs unirrigated plots over the the course of one growing season.

Actually Emilio, I would think Fukouka’s own experience shows your later line not to necessarily be the case…as he had many, many self-admitted crop failures before achieving some level of success. And, as you point out, his experience with non-perennial crops was far less, so more failures might well result.

Emilio, would you be okay with sorting out botrytis infected fruit from your vineyard? It would be, I believe, expressive of a site and the weather that comes with the particular season. Or would you insist on leaving it in?

I actually think that Fukouka would have difficulties with your rather dogmatic approach…assuming that what is best for vines in one spot is necessarily better in all locations. In my readings, he was much more flexible in his approach than that.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Yes it does.

Yes, at a minimum these studies should be done over multiple seasons and in situations where vines could survive without irrigation. It’s easy to show that dry farming doe not work. Take an irrigated vineyard almost anywhere, turn off the water for the entire season and your vineyard will probably look like hell and your crop will be minimal and unbalance. But if you do it gradually over a few seasons, the vines will probably adapt.
I am not saying that all vineyards can be dry farmed. But if your goal was to express your site and seasons and you realize you NEED to irrigate your vines every year, then you planted in the wrong place.

Lots of fantastic ‘Cellar Rats’ talk in this thread, but since it crosses over both a general Wine Talk subject AND great Cellar Rats chat, I’m going to keep it here, and ask that you PLEASE keep it going!