There’s an ancient fable in which a farmer tells his sons there’s buried treasure in their vineyard.

Leeds: “The two sons dug up every square inch of that vineyard. And though they found no buried treasure box, they were rewarded with their best harvest ever.”

That’s Frank Leeds of Frog’s Leap Winery in California’s Napa Valley. He says the fable, from about 600 BC, describes dry farming – a technique that was commonly used in Napa Valley before irrigation became popular. In dry farming, a cover crop is planted between the rows of vines where it absorbs the winter rains. In the spring it is then tilled into the soil, where it acts like a sponge, pulling up water from below. A fine layer of mulch over the top then prevents evaporation.

Leeds says his grape vines, are healthier and stay productive longer than irrigated vines, despite getting as little as sixteen inches of rainfall per year, and the taste of the wine has won acclaim.

Leeds: “The wines that really put us on the map were all from dry farmed grape vines.”

Frog’s Leap is one of the few vineyards that has always been dry farmed, but the current California drought is raising new interest in this ancient and fabled technique.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Aesop’s fable “Father and His Sons” illustration (Ernest Griset – 1874)

More Resources
Dry Farming
Frog’s Leap Winery
US Drought Monitor

Sara Peach

Sara Peach is the Senior Editor of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist, and...