“Liquor is worth fightin’ for, but water is worth dyin’ for.” Such is an old adage Ken Wright, owner and winemaker of Ken Wright Cellars in Carlton, Oregon, remembers from when he first came to the West Coast in the 1970s. “Water was already an issue,” he says. “When the population of an area cannot be supported by the natural annual rainfall, things get serious very quickly.”
As the climate continues to change, drought conditions throughout the U.S. West Coast continue to get worse and, as a result, growers look for ways to decrease their water use—with some switching off the irrigation hose altogether and turning to dry farming.
What Is Dry Farming?
“Dry farming means that we do not use irrigation and rely on the residual moisture in the soil received during the wet season to supply the vines with water,” explains Dan Warnshuis, proprietor of Utopia Vineyard in Newburg, Oregon. This means that any kind of stored water—even pond water or captured roof-structure water—cannot be used to water crops, whether by hand or through an irrigation system. “Dry farming is particularly important in areas that have a paucity of aquifers.”