So, what IS sustainability? Here is the current standard definition:
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
“Sustainability” has become a wine trend. It is the new “organic”. There is a plethora of regional accreditations and certifications (mostly voluntary) addressing key adaptation strategies and embracing organic and biodynamic farming practices. The majority of these programmes focus on conservation of habitat and biodiversity as well as pest management, soil health, energy efficiency, green buildings, recycling materials, and water and waste reduction. ALL VITAL and ALL CRITICALLY IMPORTANT
But If water management is mentioned at all, it is too often concerned only with water conservation within a system of irrigation; espousing the benefits of drip irrigation, Regulated Deficit Irrigation (RDI), or the need for better water and soil moisture measuring tools. Absent is the acknowledgement that ceasing freshwater irrigation and choosing to dry farm, would be the most effective sustainability measure.
In the vast majority of the sustainability programmes we have researched across the globe, the use of freshwater irrigation or even a Water Management programme is glaringly omitted ….
And it is my firm belief that going forward, that True Viticultural Sustainability will only be achieved through the practice of dry farming … And we already know how to do this … We have the European irrigation laws as a model – it is not unknown territory and in the New World, there are swathes of dry farmers in our most arid and even desert wine regions: the dry farmers in South Africa’s Swartland, the California’s Zinfandel farmers, Chile, Lebanon etc… There are examples everywhere of the economic and ecological viability of dry farming. So the EU needs to relax their planting laws, but keep their irrigation bans firm, and these should serve as a template for the rest of the world’s wine regions.
When I ran this thesis past an eminent Californian wine producer who dry farms, he warned me that I might have to proceed with caution as he said:
“Americans are as crazy about their water as they are about their guns.”