Posts Tagged ‘organic grapes’

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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 A sunny drive brought me to a very warm afternoon on the renowned Waluke slope, where after dropping off bins for the coming harvest, I walked the vineyard. Struggling vines with ripe fruit stretch away from me; the ends are not visible from my vantage. Quiet pervades the vast landscape, a stillness that reflects the slow ripening of the fruit, the coming energy of the winter.

Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon will hail from these vineyards. This area has a great reputation and is known for its red wines. Soils are sparse, mostly sand laid down by the Missoula floods that swept down the coulees of the Columbia. With careful deficit irrigation, the canopies are open and with the heat of this area, good things happen to the flavors of these grapes. Our source here is the old Doc Stewart vineyard, now organically farmed by the Gilbert Family.

Yesterday I looked at and sampled Malbec, Merlot and Chardonnay. Today I must get the Chardonnay and Malbec harvested, loaded and to the Lopez ferry. I am writing from the Rosa Berge Arrowsmith vineyard, farmed by organic grower Joe Cervantes. I listen to the pickers, as they cheerfully banter away with each other. The Taco Isabelle truck has just arrived! The workers stream from the vines, eager to replenish themselves. I join them, buying two tacos made with sliced beef, onion, lettuce, guacamole and a drink for only $3.50! These folks work hard and they are so unseen in our enjoyment of food and wine. I do get to see their work and thank them personally; I wish more people could see what it takes to get the wine to the bottle. Eighty percent of the work in wine is in the vineyard, as I know very well.

The morning air is clear and cool, the work easy amongst the sparse open canopy of these vines. It is a bit of a cliché to refer to struggling vines, but these vines set a definition for struggle. The statement is based in some fact, born out by generations of experience: Struggling vines have a more open, less vigorous canopy. A more open canopy allows more sunlight to directly shine on the developing fruit. Fruit that ripens in the sunshine has more intense fruit flavor.

This is our first harvest of Chardonnay from the Arrowsmith vineyard. I am feeling some trepidation in this change of farm, as there are a lot of unknowns for me. However, this vineyard is an old well documented vineyard, one I made wine from over 25 years ago, so I know it can do quality. The big attraction has been the organic certification that this vineyard now carries.

Harold Pleasant is the farmer of our Merlot. He farms his organic field, not far from Red Mountain, using very tight spacing on a vertical training system. After a trip to France, he decided to try this technique. His rows are closer together than any I have seen in the new world. Because the vines are so close, he has had to fabricate his own farm equipment to fit down these rows! His contraptions are ingenious! I can tell he likes to invent and weld things up, as his farm yard is full of homemade devices, where he has tried to improve on existing technology. The grapes this year look beautiful and the vines well balanced; not too vigorous or too much crop.

Well, I made the ferry that day, and now those wines are moving from tank to barrel. Some of these wines will be available in the next year; some will be two years in their aging. Meanwhile, we have some outstanding wines from the Crawford’s being bottled and released. Enjoy your winter and may it be filled with friends, family and good times. Brent Charnley, winemaker

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