Archive for the ‘Vineyard Work’ Category

I have just finished the book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David Montgomery.  Through the documentation of severe erosion and poor farming practices, Montgomery writes about how loss of soil led to the end of most farming community’s ability to sustain their populations.  He also uses examples of farming practices that have endured for centuries, demonstrating that sustainable farming is achievable and why it so very necessary if we humans are to survive into the future.

Soil and its health are at the root of organic and biodynamic farming.  Farmers who practice these methods are looking at the long view, striving to make their farms fertile and productive by feeding their soil, not their plants.  Healthy soil is rich in humus and microorganisms, giving properties that hold the mineral particles together and give them the ability to sustain life.  Organic farm husbandry can reduce erosion, while building tilth, water holding capacity, and long term fertility.

Vineyard Cover Crop

Clover fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere

The enhancement of our tilth has been at the forefront of the farm plan at Lopez Island Vineyards since day one. While a perennial crop makes this a little easier, we work to build our fertility and soil structure every year by adding compost, using green manure cover crops, and minimizing tilling to protect our earthworms.  Using biodynamic techniques, we strive to create on farm fertility, thus reducing the importation of nutrients.  We build compost from farm wastes, we graze animals on our land to create a conversion of cover crops to fertilizer, and we use selected green manure crops to add nitrogen while pulling up minerals from the sub-soil.

These efforts show in our wines: repeatedly our estate grown varietals show a complexity and depth of flavor that makes them stand out from other examples.  This is partly our terrior, that concept of flavors that come from the place: soil, fertility, climate, exposure, local microbes.  Additionally, the use of organic farming methods allows our plants and soil to live at optimum health, which helps enhance the expression of our terrior in our wines.

Chickens in the Vineyard

Chickens grub for insects and weed seeds

We still have a ways to go to being a totally enclosed farm system.  Our goal is to strive towards soil husbandry that will see this vineyard still producing crops 1,000 years from now, and, in the  short term, produce  a healthier system with every passing year.  Using knowledge from the geniuses of the past; people such as Rudolf Steiner, Sir Albert Howard, Edward Faulkner and Robert Rodale, along with pioneers of the present represented by Wendell Berry, Nicolas Joly and  Wes Jackson, we study, experiment and run trials in our efforts towards this goal.  Our efforts are paying off, which are evidenced by the quality of our wines.


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Random thoughts of a vintner; so begins my posting of life in the vineyards and winemaking here on Lopez Island WA. 

I hope to use this forum to share the everyday observations, trials, successes and all around interest of these endeavours.  Life of a vintner is timeless, harking back to a simpler era, never-the-less it also interfaces with the modern world and is influenced by that world.

Today is a good example: I expected to spend the better part of the day pruning in the vineyard.  This task must be completed before the buds begin to swell and thus is very time dependent.  Better be done by March 1!  And then there was the fine weather for it too: sunny and warm like January has been!  I was looking forward to being outside.

However, there was all the calls, emails and decisions to make in connection with ordering a new labeling machine, working out a printer and new layout for the labels.  All this is also time dependent and won’t wait!  Finally, after 2 pm, I was on my way back to the vineyard.  Paused on the way to taste our Madeleine Angevine.  This wine was in the process of being transfered back to its neutral oak barrels.  YES, it tastes good (even through my cold) and is that something I am very happy about.

Finally to the vineyard and began the meditative selecting and cutting.  This is my favorite task of all the tasks I do; there are no phones, sales people or other interruptions.  And, pruning is something I am good at, so it is fulfilling and easy.  Sun shone down, even at its low angle of the season, warming me out of first my jacket, then my sweatshirt and hat.  Pruning is the most critical of vineyard operations, it not only determines the coming crop for this year, but the shape of the vine and its fruitfulness for many years to come.  Truly an ancient art.  Here are a before and after photos.

 There is a summary of a day, a start to this blog and now sleep well deserved.

Cheers, Brent Charnley

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