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"Wherever there is water, life can become active in the material world; water is essentially the element of life, wherever possible it wrests life from death." -Theodor Schwenk, The Sensitive Chaos
If we think about the many ways in which humans interact with water, we can see how complex this substance is. There are the naturally occuring instances of water (and its many forms): rain, fog, mist, snow, ice. Our showers and baths are water, keeping us clean and feeling refreshed. Coffee and tea is made with water. Much cooking involves water as an essential ingredient.  Let's think about our own bodies for a moment. In some ways, we are simply walking bags of water. Our muscles and bones help to move water from one place to another in the form of our bodies. The grapes themselves are similar with about 82% water. Of course we need water to grow grapevines. And, because of water, we have grapes that hold flavor and sugar and can be transformed into wine. It's easy enough to say that water is miraculous. Even without any spiritual connection, what water does is amazing.


We focus this month on the element of water and how it is used in grape growing and winemaking practices. It is important to consider this element of the wine world as something more than just an ingredient. Water is the life force that makes wine possible.  There are many ways in which a producer uses water in the winemaking process.  But not all producers are out watering the vines. In fact, a grapevine can provide better quality fruit if its roots are left thirsty so that they dig deep to find nourishment further down in the soil. To understand this concept further, we will be giving our attention to a Spanish winemaking duo, Esmerlada Garcia and Joan Valencia because of their use of Dry Farming.  Dry Farming wine is not a new thing. Many wine regions around the world in both hemispheres use no irrigation on their vineyards. In many cases irrigation is forbidden and the local regulatory body will revoke a wine's regional status if a producer has used excessive amounts of water on the grape vines. This is because it is believed that when vines are dry farmed and left to search for nourishment on their own, the grapes and final wine are better able to express their terroir, or sense of place.  As winemaking expands around the globe and evolves over time, an expression of place has become coveted as a way to stand out and identify oneself.  Just as water covers the globe and links us geographically and economically, to talk about water in winemaking is to talk about the stories of the world.  As you taste these bottles, picture yourself standing in the hot sand of Central Spain, the sun beating on your head, and let your roots extend and reach for the nourishment you taste in your glass.  It is there for you to find.


Everything.  Water does everything!  Water makes its way through the entire winemaking process, start to finish.  And as water becomes an increasingly limited resource, it becomes even more important to examine its essential role in wine production.  There is a way in which water involves itself naturally and there is the way in which humans use water intentionally.  This brief overview of water in wine production will highlight the uses of water from growing to making to drinking wine.


First and foremost, it is necessary for the vines.  Whether you are irrigating or dry farming, the vines need water to thrive.  In some ways we can view the grapevine as the structure through which water can pass on its way into the form of a grape. From there, the grapes are picked and pressed, releasing the water back into a drinkable form.  There are two methods to water usage in wine production: irrigation and dry farming.  Some areas of the world specifically prohibit the use of irrigation.  Some areas of the world do not even have enough access to water to irrigate.  Mediterranean countries who experience dry, long summers have found ways to organize their vines so that they have maximum potential to find water on their own and withstand a limited rainfall.  This method is called gobelet, or bush vine training, a form of dry farming.  It gives wide pathways between rows of grapevines so that the roots have plenty of room to search for water underground.  Because vines are thought of as structural parasites (they will climb over anything in order to get to sunlight), this method also creates dappled shade so that grapes don’t burn without making a canopy which would require more water and effort from the vines.  In the world of natural winemaking, dry farming is the way to go not only because it is more earth friendly, but also because it allows the grapes to better reflect the character of the earth they are growing on.  However, for areas that receive under 20 inches of rain per  year, water must be supplemented.  This is most often accomplished through irrigation designed to recreate rainfall.  For example in Mendoza, Argentina, a truly arid corner of the world receiving less than 8 inches of rain each year,  they designed an irrigation system hundreds of years ago that uses snow melt from the Andes and spray it above the grapevines like rain.  It requires a lot of water to make it work, and can create new problems like disease from too much water resting on leaves.  Many believe that irrigation erases the terroir in the flavor, but without some water, these grapes would never grow.  There are those winemakers that have found that once the grapes change color to be an optimal time to reduce the water supply and try to find a middle ground between dry farming and irrigated agriculture.  


During the winemaking process, one of the biggest roles water plays is in the cleaning and sanitizing of equipment.  It is here that we see the actual quality of water come into view.  Like terroir, different water supplies have different compositions.  If a local water supply is too hard and carries alkali metals and minerals such as calcium and magnesium, it can decrease the level of sanitation on equipment and also lead to filter clogging.  The minerals in hard water leave deposits that are tricky to avoid without using water softening or conditioning systems.  On top of that, your local tap water is also out of the question.  Tap water is treated with chlorine to kill diseases and bacterias and make it possible for us to drink it without getting sick.  But for the winery, this is bad news.  That little bit of chlorine can end up creating a mold in the cork that leaves the wine tasting “corked” or kind of like wet cardboard.  Therefore, dechlorination for process use is a must and is usually done through a carbon filter.


If you think about it, we even use water for drinking wine!  One of the oldest methods of transporting wine is by sea and it reaches way back to the Phoenicians of the Eastern Mediterranean between 1500 - 300 BCE.  This not only afforded people access to wine, but it brought the knowledge of different winemaking practices and cultures with it. Shipping has even played a part in the wine production process.  Madeira, a fortified wine from the island Madeira off the coast of Africa, came into the flavor we think of today because of the aging that happened over its sea voyage from Madeira to the rest of Europe and US.  Without that time in the hull of a ship, bumping and riding the waves, we would not know that something could taste so deep and sweet.  Today, shipping is still the main way we are able to hand you these two bottles from Central Spain.


Garcia & Valencia
Spain, Castille & Leon, Segovia
Grape: Verdejo
The Verdejo is from Esmeralda's youngest vines, about 5-15 years old. Verdejo is (most likely) a white grape you've never heard of. If you have, know that you are part of a small set of wine drinkers in the world. Rarely grown outside of Castille & Leon, or even outside of Spain. Wines of Verdejo can hit that familiar spot if you like the citrus element of Sauvignon Blancs or the mineral components of Pinot Grigio. This is also one of the rare white grapes that can gain in complexity as it ages.


Garcia & Valencia
Spain, Castille & Leon, Segovia
Grapes: Garnaxta, Macabeo
This wine is made up primarily of the Garnaxta grape, with a tiny splash of Macabeo added. The Garaxta (aka Grenache and Garnacha) loves to grow in a hot, dry climate. One of the top ten most widely planted wine grapes in the world, Garnaxta is right at home in Segovia, Spain. The sandy soils allow for plenty of water drainage, keeping this grapevine slightly stressed, which allows for better concentration of flavors in the actual grapes. Garnaxta is a vigorous growing vine and if it has access to too much water, it can grow too fast and produce uninteresting fruit, and plenty of it. The small amount of Macabeo used adds a little extra acidity to the total wine as Garnaxta has a low level. 


Let’s get a distributor’s perspective.  Lee Schafer is the owner and operator of Dadaist Wines, one of our most treasured distributors here at Caravan Wine Shop.  We love Lee because he loves and respects wine and winemakers so much that he only works with the purest of the pure- that is the winemakers that have the least intervention in their vineyards and production.  Because of Lee’s high standards of how wine should be made and how land should be honored, we have access to some of the most interesting and honest natural wines on the planet.  But Lee’s philosophy did not happen overnight.  He has been distributing wine for over 10 years in Illinois and Wisconsin, and we thought he might be able to give us some added insight into the most ideal water practices in the wine world.  
*If you think Lee is cool now, you should come see him speak at our panel discussion on Wine, Water, and Soil happening at the MREA’s Energy Fair Friday June 23 at 1pm, in Custer, WI.  Lee will be joined by other experts in winemaking and earth science to deepen our understanding of how the wine world is being influenced by the current climate changes.  Lee will also be at our natural wine tasting event following the panel discussion at the Energy Fair where you can talk to him personally and taste several of the other wines he proudly carries.


1. What criteria do you look for in a producer in regards to water?

I only work with dry farmed vineyards and orchards. I do not work with any producer that irrigates.

2. Is there an area of the world to model ourselves after for water usage?

I would suggest La Mancha, Spain. You will not see irrigated vineyards there much, as water is scarce and valuable. But there is water underground. I am also against plowing fields, as I believe that it exposes the land to water evaporation as well as exposing the microbial life to stress and attack from outside forces that rarely venture into their world.

3. What is the role of water in wine production?

It is used in the cellars to wash and sterilize bottles, storage vessels and equipment. It is pulled deep from the earth from vines that have not been subjected to forced irrigation. It is crucial for life. I have seen vine roots in the Southern Rhone, as deep as 100 meters. How do I know this? Because a winemaker was digging a well and hit vine roots all the way down to 100 meters! Crazy. When I tell other winemakers this story, they never believe it. But it is true true true.

4. What created your personal philosophy regarding water usage in wine production?

Seeing how much some regions waste their water. Also, I do not believe that grey / run off water should be used for plant/vine irrigation, as their is a fair bit of arsenic out there that is picked up in grey water, and transfered to the wine, the grapes and ultimately the wine/cider.

Strangely enough, the EPA has different standards for levels of arsenic in drinking water versus wine or cider. They do not protect it the same way as water, and allow wines to be bottled and sold with much higher levels of arsenic than is safe for drinking.

5. What do you like about the Garcia and Valencia producers and their products?

Sourced from growers that dry farm, using only the smallest amount of chemicals, but only for emergencies as they are located in regions that are typically very dry which alleviates the need to worry endlessly about the myriad of rot, mildew and whatnot.

Our aim is to give a glimpse into the many roles wine has played throughout history.  All subjects mentioned deserve more attention and research and we encourage you to keep exploring.  We are only here to pop the cork.
Many Thanks, Caravan Wine Shop

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