ORGANICS & BIODYNAMICS
ORGANIC FARMING AT OUR VINEYARDS
"After experimenting for several years with a few blocks of vines, in 2003 we decided to make the jump to the entire vineyard,"says winery founder, Marimar Torres. "The whole idea is to create an ideal balance between the vines and nature. The vineyard will be ecologically healthier, and the grapes of higher quality. That's our long-term reward."
Organic certification is a three-year process, at the end of which a winery can note on the label that its wine is made from organic grapes. Marimar believes conversion to organic farming practices is ultimately better for the life of the vineyard.
We use cover crops to improve the health of our soils through nitrogen-fixing legumes. The plants we use for cover crops benefit our soils by adding organic matter.
In organic viticulture, we worry about the health of the soil and the environment as opposed to feeding synthetic fertilizers to the individual vines, in the same way that a child would be better nurtured through good healthy food rather than with vitamin tablets.
"The old idea was that a vineyard had to be clean, with no weeds. But today, for the overall health of the vineyard, we promote the growth of cover crops,"says Marimar Torres. Marimar Estate's cover crops are a mixture of peas, vetch, bell beans and oats.
"Cover crops are essential for organic farming because they provide a habitat for beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and spiders, which are natural predators for harmful pests like leaf hoppers and mites," adds Marimar.
BENEFICIAL INSECTS IN FARMING
In organic viticulture, the cover crop is essential to provide a habitat for beneficial critters that help establish an ecological balance between the harmful insects and their predators.
Ladybugs and spiders, for instance, feed naturally on leaf hoppers and mites, which are the vines' enemies.
Biodiversity is crucial to create an ideal balance between the vines and nature. The vineyard will be healthier and give us higher-quality grapes; that is the long-term goal.
THE CARPET OF CLOVER
To avoid using herbicides, we create a "carpet"of clover under the vine rows. Clover is an ideal cover crop here because it is a low-growth grass that inhibits the taller and more pernicious, unwanted weeds.
The cover crops also help protect the soil from erosion during the rainy season. After the cover crop has gone to seed (and the tractor can get in) we either mow it, if we want to decrease the vigor, or till it into the soil if we want to build up the top soil.
Fall is the time of year when we lay the foundation for the upcoming growing season with organic practices like making our compost. In an area designated for this purpose we pile up the grape pomace (stems, seeds and skins left over after pressing the grapes) together with the horse manure from our equestrian center in Freestone, the straw from the stables, cow manure, recycled saw dust from a nearby enzyme bath spa, and apple pomace from a neighboring apple cannery. In early November we mix up all the piles and start the composting process. The resulting pile will be turned and monitored throughout the winter, covered with a tarp to protect it from the rain and wind.
Now that our vineyards are certified organic, we are moving into biodynamics! This is really a step up from organic viticulture, where the approach is to see the vineyard as an ecological whole: not just rows of grape vines, but the soil beneath them -- an organism in its own right -- and the other flora and fauna in the area, growing together interdependently. To enhance biodiversity, "compost teas"prepared from special herbs are also sprayed in minute quantities.
Biodynamics is a leap of faith; it's impossible to quantify the success of the practices. But we firmly believe that our wines have become more reflective of their terroir, rounder, and more "stand-alone"since we became organic.
PREP BD 500
Prep BD 500 is the first of the eight biodynamic preparations from the teachings of Rudolph Steiner, back in the 1920s: a female cow horn is filled with manure from a lactating cow and buried during the autumn equinox, September 23. It is then dug out in the Spring and around the solstice in June, it is sprayed or "splashed"on the vine leaves; it only takes minuscule quantities to reap the effects.
PREP BD 501
On June 23, the Summer Solstice, we bury some female cow horns with the second biodynamic preparation, BD 501: silica, or quartz crystals. This is a compound with optical and electrical properties, found in the surface layers of the earth in sand or rocks. Silica is an essential part of the human and animal body.
This preparation is dug out in December, ground to a fine powder, then stored in a jar and kept on a window sill, exposed to the sunlight, until Spring. It will then be applied in minute quantities (1/4 tsp. per hectare) as a spray in the vineyard prior to harvest, to improve the ripening action of sunlight.