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Larner Vineyard and Winery

Michael Larner
 
April 1, 2016 | Michael Larner

Aquifer

n. An underground layer of water-bearing permeable region of rock, rock fractures, unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, or silt) or soil through which ground water can move. Aquifers can occur at various depth levels, where those closer to the surface are more likely to be used for water supply and irrigation, but are also more likely to be replenished by the local rainfall. Fluctuations in water availability will not only depend on the depth of the aquifer, but the rate of removal.

Leading into the winter of late 2015/ early 2016 meteorologist called for an “El Niño” with record-breaking rainfall for the Pacific West Coast. Fueled by extremely warm sea belts, the belief was that California could see upwards of 42 inches of rainfall. This doomsday prophecy, much like the Y2K phenomena, similarly disappointed with below-average rainfall for Southern California, leaving us envious of Northern California with reservoirs filled. Hopefully it also will saturate Sacramento with impending water use regulations that might eventually infringe on private water wells.

The beginning of the 2016 vintage has brought little relief in terms of moisture, but the rainfall – although sparse, has accomplished three main goals on our estate vineyard: (1) Leaching salts that can interfere with nutrient take up in the roots in our soils that have formed from the previous three years of drought, (2) Establishing a viable organic cover crop which has now been incorporated back into the soil as a green mulch fertilizer source, and (3) Contributed back to the aquifer to ensure long-term stability of water levels below ground.

A common misconception is that “dry-farmed” vineyards produce better wines, studies all over the academic world designates that vines need approximately 32 gallons of water to complete their entire growing cycle from bud-break to harvest. Therefore regions, like the Ballard Canyon AVA, whom historically get 13 inches of rain will never be able to dry farm and will supplement from their aquifer. Ultimately this does give our estate an advantage, since we can time our irrigation to various stages of phenological development in the vineyard.

In essence using the aquifer can yield better results in producing the optimal wine-grapes and to make wines that are truly complex, age worthy, and balanced. Although we are not completely out of the woods with regard to the effects we have endured from the drought, this vintage seems to have at least returned us to a “normalcy” which has the makings to be a truly classic vintage.

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