I was a little surprised when I realized that our web presence has no mention of our grower philosophy. It's entirely my fault, of course, and it seems to be one of those assumed things: it's such a big part of my everyday thinking that I assume it's widely known.
I get a lot of questions about if we farm organically or biodynamically. Further, many of my friends and associates work for many of the organic farming movement in some form or another so it's a subject for which I have pretty solid background and interest.
The simple answer is that we do not farm organically or biodynamically for a few reasons. As you can see from this photo and others here that we practice what is known as "conservation tillage." We are conserving our soil by using cover crops in the avenues to limit erosion and compaction of the soil. Talk to one organic farmer and they will stress the importance of clean cultivation to reduce competition for water and nutrients. Talk to a soil scientist and they will talk about compaction and "plow pans" (hardpan created by tractor passes with a disc through the vineyard) which compact the soil and has a negative effect on soil structure. Each pass for the sake of clean cultivation, essentially weed control, compacts the soil. It also requires a great deal of horsepower which = diesel fuel = air pollution.
In fact, much of the bottom line for organic farming comes down to weed control. Because we are a hillside vineyard, many of the tractor-driven cultivation tools for the vinerow (vines and trellis) won't work due to the terraces and varied terrain. With a little bit of Roundup herbicide applied with a very low impact ATV, our vinerows can be kept relatively clean with very low inputs. Another organic option for a clean vinerow is hand hoeing or weed trimmers. Weed trimmers also pollute the air and use fossil fuels and hand labor is quite expensive. This is a good entree to the concept of "sustainability."
I love that word because it encompasses so much. One of the main tenets of sustainability is economic -- can you sustain a healthy bottom line? Would hand-hoeing all 26 acres be a sustainable practice? No. The other part is sustainable soil, landscape and planet. The one thread that runs through all of our sustainable farming philosophy is low inputs. If we have a healthy, thriving soil, our use of fertilizers is minimal. Tractor passes through the vineyard are kept at a minimum so we are keeping our soil healthy. If our vines are balanced and appropriate for the location, we can minimize irrigation, fertilizer, labor costs and use of fossil fuels.
A last comment on this whirlwind post is another word that I love: "resident vegetation." That is to say, a cover crop that is mostly the weeds that we started with before we planted the vineyard. Many of these plants are native grasses and various broadleaf plants and many more are some of the same weeds you probably deal with in your garden. In fact, an organic vegetable farmer friend of mine laments filaree in her fields. I happen to love filaree in our vineyard because it comes up early in the fall and helps protect the vineyard from erosion with the first rains. It dies and dries up before it could be considered very competitive with the vines. Over time, we have gone after all the really pernicious weeds with hoes and spot-spraying, enhanced some areas with designer cover crops, and now have a wonderful family of resident vegetation. If we were to plant a cover crop every year, that would be another few passes through the vineyard.
I could go on -- and on and on. Instead, I invite you to come out and see for yourself. It really is a fascinating subject, is always evolving and makes a great subject with a great glass of sustainable wine.