"Wine Mic Monday" is a new VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog to write about aspects unique to them and their wines. This week, we are proud to feature Emeritus Vineyards from the Russian River Valley. Their 2011 Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir was just named #26 in Wine Spectator's Top 100 wines in 2014.

"Dry Farming" By Mari Jones, Emeritus Vineyards

You know when you get a summer tomato from the farmers market, you’ve been eating tomatoes from the grocery store all winter and spring and when you take a bite you instantly remember what a tomato really tastes like? I love that moment, it connects me with the farmer, the land and the food I’m eating. I remember that someone planted the tomato, tended to it and picked it. It grew in a field, in soil not in a greenhouse, not hydroponically. 

That’s the feeling I get when I taste a wine that is made from non-irrigated grapes, or dry-farmed. Dry farming is not widely practiced in California, as we don’t have rainfall during the summer growing season. In almost all other grape growing regions of the world there is summer rainfall. Our practice of dry farming evolved from a conversation my dad, Brice Cutrer Jones, had with his Burgundian friend and former business partner Aubert de Villaine. They were developing a vineyard together when my dad was given a life-changing lesson: “When you irrigate you change the signature of the wine.” We have been working at this practice since 2008, trying to capture the terroir of our incredible vineyards and create the most honest wines. 

  Hallberg Ranch - Goldridge Loam & Sandy Clay with Roots

Hallberg Ranch - Goldridge Loam & Sandy Clay with Roots

After 3 years of weaning our vines off water, they were capable of sustaining themselves just on rainfall stored in the soil and not needing any supplemental irrigation. And we were dry farming! It wasn’t easy to get there, but it was worth it. When a grapevine is irrigated, the roots of the vine will only grow where the water diffuses in the soil, which is a shallow area underneath the vine, and almost like growing the vine hydroponically. When vines are cultivated without irrigation they will grow roots deep and wide in search of water, especially in a drought as we are in now.

So what does all this mean for our wines? We’ve found that the grapes achieve full physiological (flavor) ripeness at a lower sugar level, so we have less extracted and cooked fruit flavors in the wine and lower alcohol levels. We find the grapes retain more acid so we have a more acid driven wine, even in warmer years. And we see smaller berries which creates more concentrated wines and a tannic structure. The wine has so many more dimensions, in our early vintages our wines were “classic Russian River Valley”, bold fruit flavors, low tannin, and higher alcohol wine. They were all personality with very little character.  My dad always says, "The character of a wine comes from the soil, the personality from the climate."

 Hallberg Ranch Vineyard

Hallberg Ranch Vineyard

After a couple vintages of totally dry farmed vines, I’ve seen a shift in the balance of our wines. They still have lots of Russian River Valley personality, bright fruit flavors and the like, but they are more elegant, more restrained and grounded with the character of our soils, which lends earthy and spice flavors, but also brighter acidity and a soft tannin structure. The wines express their vineyards, they express their vintage, and they express the people who care for the vines every day - just like the tomato from the farmers market, more complex, more exciting and more honest.

When Mari isn't drinking Emeritus, she enjoys wines from Stony Hill, Benovia, and DRNK.


Be sure to add your Emeritus experiences in the VAULT29 app!