The Vineyard

Our vineyard resides in Albemarle County among the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the spectacular Monticello AVA. The vineyard is certified-organic, only one of a handful on the East Coast.

Because we grow our grapes organically, we choose grape varieties that are fairly resistant to diseases (mildews, rots, etc.). Most of the world’s fine wines are made from Vitis vinifera grapes, which include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc. These grapes are extremely susceptible to diseases, so we don’t grow them.

The grapes we grow are hybrids, meaning that the pollen of one variety was crossed with the flower of second variety to produce a third, entirely-different variety. Hybrids have been produced by viticulturists at universities since the 1800s, but the ones we grow are relatively new. Hybrid research has focused on overcoming the weaknesses of vinifera grapes (like cold tenderness or disease susceptibility).

We grow one variety of white wine grapes, two varieties of red wine grapes, and are trialing eight more varieties for their suitability for organic farming.

The vineyard was certified organic by QCS (Quality Certification Services) after three years of demonstrating strict adherence to federal guidelines governing organic farming. The certification is renewed annually by the same process, and provides our customers assurance that we do what we say we do.

ORGANIC FARMING

A common misconception about organic agriculture is that it involves doing nothing: what can be more organic, after all, than watching your crop become destroyed by insects and disease (ah, the circle of life!). What “organic” means can be answered in two ways:

Firstly, “organic” means agricultural practices that do not use synthetic substances. Prohibited substances include most of the designer pesticides and fungicides commonly used by large agribusinesses. While these pesticides and fungicides are proven to increase crop yields, the lingering health effects to consumers are not completely understood. Conventional wisdom would suggest that a tomato grown without applications of poison would be healthier than the alternative. Because organic farming generally sees lower crop yields, organic foods tend to be more expensive.

Secondly, “organic” is a legal term as defined by the USDA’s National Organic Program that can only be used on a label if every step of production has been certified. This includes the materials that we use to manage the vineyard. Most of these substances are considered “natural,” in that they are mined directly from the earth, processed from plants, or grown “naturally” in a lab. Each certifier of organic farms has a list of approved materials. The most common list is OMRI’s list (Organic Material Review Institute). This is the list that we consult, and it governs much of what we use.

Conventional pesticides and fungicides are generally poisons—that is their method of killing insects or disease. Organic sprays often work more indirectly, and are inherently less effective. It has been described as “farming with two hands tied behind your back,” which is funny, but couldn’t be further from the truth as so much hand work is necessary to do what your sprays cannot. At our small scale, all shoot positioning, leaf pulling, shoot shinning, desuckering, fruit culling, and winter pruning is done by hand. Each vine receives about 30 minutes of TLC throughout the growing season, which is well above industry average but very necessary for us.

THE MADNESS BEHIND THE METHOD

If given the opportunity, nature will find equilibrium, and if we can just get on the right side of the curve, we can farm with nature instead of against it. What does this mean? This means surrendering absolute control to the mind-numbingly complex systems of life above and below the ground, and then respectfully elbowing out a little space for our grapevines.

We don’t have a manicured, picture-perfect vineyard. It looks a little wild. But it’s actually meticulously and purposefully cared for. Bustling with life and vibrating with energy, it’s what can be achieved when farm priorities align with the needs of the ecosystem. It’s just a different approach. Instead of putting the bottle of wine first, we put the way we grow the grapes first. The wine is only a bonus.

How We Do It

It sounds simple and it is: choose grape varieties with disease resistance so they can stand up for themselves, and maintain a robust population of beneficial insects to keep all the baddies at bay. Ladybugs, lacewings, assassin bugs, spined soldier bugs, parasitic wasps, hoverflies, and others help to achieve the balance, but the real rock stars are the spiders. They are the sentinels always on watch. They are the reason our vineyard works.

Bugs may not be for you. Lord knows I don’t want them in my house. But when it comes to farming organically, it’s all about the bugs.

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