On this episode of Food Forecast we visit two farmers in the Napa Valley who are battling shifts in the growing season and a limited water supply to create some of the best wines in the Napa Valley.
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In order to produce great wine, these farmers are embracing modern science and old world techniques, to work with the shifting natural environment of the area.
Owner Robert Sinskey took over his father’s vineyard in 1986. With his winemaker of 29 years, Jeff Virnig, Sinskey has turned his vineyard into a biodynamic farm, developing a diversified and balanced farm ecosystem.
“The trick,” says Sinskey, “is to grasp the natural rhythms and take it forward so that we can heal any damage that we’re doing.”
He believes that the herbicides that were previously used on his vineyard were sterilizing the soil. So he changed the entire ecosystem of his vineyard, relying on manures and compost, as well as a flock of up to 400 sheep to create an environment to produce his wine grapes.
“We practice the perfect circle, whether it's adding sheep to the landscape, and letting sheep graze in the wintertime instead of using chemicals, we don't use herbicides,” says Sinskey. “The whole idea is to make efficient use and not be afraid of biodiversity.”
In nearby Coombsville, Andy Erikson of Favia-Erickson vineyards and his wife Annie are dry farming a small acre sized vineyard making some of the most delicious Sauvignon Blanc using zero water.
“I think if we did irrigate the vine, we'd get more fruit, but that's not really the point for us,” says Erickson. “The wine here is really intense and aromatic and we love it that way.”
Andy and his wife and winemaking partner Annie carefully analyzed the soil and sun direction, using computer modeling to arrange the rows in order to avoid sunburn and match the root system to the soil types.
Inspired by a nearby vineyard that’s been dry farmed for 112 years, Andy believes it’s a technique that other vineyards should think about.
“I think it is something that people don't realize they can be doing, or they haven't explored it in the way that they should.”
And as droughts continue to affect farmers, Andy believes it’s time for winemakers to think about dry farming as well.
“It's something that you either do it now or do it when you're forced to do it. I think it's something people should be thinking about now.”