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While there has been much discussion and hype around words like “organic” and “sustainable” for the last decade plus, the wine industry has quietly and steadily been moving this direction in the vineyards for a much longer time. There are a good number of grape farmers who have certified organic vineyards but many more who eschew certification and simply adopt these techniques because it ultimately makes for healthier vineyards in the long run. As a wine drinker, you should know that organic wines do not taste any different nor are they better for you than any other wine. The benefit of conscientiously farming the land is that you do not deplete it for short-term gain and you produce heartier vines able to withstand the myriad challenges of climate and pests.
For Cooper’s Hawk, while we don’t do any farming ourselves, we are keenly in tune with viticulture, or the art of grape growing. We have long relationships with farmers in great wine regions around the world, especially in California and occasionally we work with some who are doing exciting things in the vineyard and we must talk about it! Raymond’s 90 acres of vineyards are all certified organic and biodynamic, which are hallmarks of Jean-Charles Boisset’s properties worldwide. At the simplest terms there are no chemical herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers used. On the grander scale, this holistic approach treats the vineyard as a biodiverse system rather than a monoculture.
Maintaining the health of the soil is a substitution for synthetic fertilizer and one way of doing this is with cover crops. In the spring, fava, red clover, legumes, vetch, and mustard are all sown between the rows to generate nitrogen and other soil boosters. As that cover crop grows tall and begins to compete with the vines, little sheep are sent into the vineyard to crop it short. Nature’s lawnmower is also further converting that cover crop into fertilizer. Of course, once the vines begin to produce shoots and leaves, the sheep must be kept out. At that point, the cover crop is tilled to compost under the soil. These simple activities eliminate the need for Roundup and chemical fertilizers completely. Grapes aren’t the only thing growing on the land either. Great swaths of plants, called insect alleys, bisect the vineyard and encourage beneficial bugs, like Lady Bugs and Lacewings, to hang out. Bird and bat boxes achieve the same thing. As the grapes become very ripe and too tempting for starlings and other small birds, hawks and falcons are brought in to chase the marauders away.
Biodynamic farming is like organic farming on steroids. This holistic approach believes that this ecosystem of living agriculture incorporates not just the plants and animals but the earth and the natural forces and rhythms of the cosmos. Stay with me here. Simply put, just as the moon pulls the tides in and out, biodynamic belief is that the moon also affects the plant’s rhythm of giving out energy and taking it in. This dictates that there are specific days where one adds fertilizer or prunes or harvests. It isn’t too different from what you might find in the Farmer’s Almanac and, while it is a unique approach to agriculture, you can’t deny that the land is healthy and the wine is tasty!