Last summer, I read an article in Edible East Bay that showcased several local vintners who practice dry farming. Dry farming not only makes sense here in summer-dry California, it also produces a grape with superior, concentrated flavors (though it does tend to produce less of them). I'm not a huge wine drinker, but I'm in the minority: California is full of knowledgable and sophisticated wine enthusiasts, as you might imagine.
My parents are among these. And so, when I read this article, I was interested to note that one of these featured wineries was in the neighboring town of Moraga. Immediately I secured a date to tour the farm and taste the wine. I had originally intended this as a gift for my parents and my brother Stewart and his wife Niki, but in the end, only my parents were available. So I invited their best friends to join them, and I chauffeured them so that they could enjoy the tasting fully and not worry about having a designated driver. Therefore, I did not participate, but the owners graciously invited me in to stroll the grounds at my leisure, and near the end of the tasting I also got to see inside the 'caves,' where the wine is stored.
Captain Vineyards is on a small parcel of land, high in the hills of Moraga. Part of the property is in full sun, part in shade, all of it on a steep incline. There are several indications that the vines are dry farmed. First of all, the land is terraced, which gives the earth a chance to hold on to the precipitation when it falls, rather than letting it flow down the hill and away into local creeks.
Secondly, the winery uses all its crushed grape seeds and skins as compost for the vines. This adds valuable organic matter to the soil, and acts as a sponge, soaking up more rainfall.
Thirdly, the Captains use cover crops in between the rows, to aid not only with moisture retention, but also with adding valuable nutrients to the soil, and keeping the soil covered and protected and cool - which also means the soil won't let water evaporate as easily.
Best of all, the wine is delicious; rich, full, and fruity. The Captains make small batch wines, using 5-6 different varietals, and it's all quite good - they have won several awards.
If you're a local, you can contact Captain Vineyards here: It is definitely worth taking a tour and having a tasting. My parents and their friends enjoyed three hours at the winery for a very reasonable rate, tasting 8 different wines, and nibbling on cheese and fruit that Sal and Susan Captain provided alongside. It's very easy to schedule a tour, just email Sal on the form he provides on his website.
We were all thrilled to find a local, organic, sustainable vineyard with great-tasting wines and entertaining, knowledgeable winemakers. If you live in the area, and you're looking for a place to bring out-of-town guests, or just a place to buy your weekly wines, Captain Vineyards is a great place to do it.