Organic Viticulture

Vines are pretty hardy, and here in California’s benign climate, grapes have it pretty easy.  We don’t often get summer rains or heavy hailstorms.  The humidity in the growing season is usually low and there is an abundance of sunlight.  So, grapes like it here. 

Without getting all political about it, after the petro-chemical revolution of the first half of the 20th century, chemical-dependent farming has been labeled “conventional farming.”  It has only been a convention for a blink of the eye in terms of agricultural history, but the name has stuck.  Opposed to this, or rather, on the other side of the spectrum is organic farming.

Organic farming goes further.  It is more of systems approach, treating the vineyard as a small eco-system of interconnected cycles of life- vine, grasses, bugs, critters, all connected.

IPM (Integrated Pest Management) has been an accepted, positive step in the right direction even for the most “conventional” farmers, as it is a cheaper and more effective way to understand pest and parasite balances, soil health and vigor, etc.  Organic farming goes further.  It is more of systems approach, treating the vineyard as a small eco-system of interconnected cycles of life- vine, grasses, bugs, critters, all connected.  For example, in setting up an organic vineyard smaller blocks of vineyards would be planned, leaving natural animal pathways undisturbed and riparian areas intact.  Beneficial insects and predatory species would be introduced and promoted to help keep insect populations in check.  One would plan on using owls, raptors and snakes to help control gopher and voles, rather than poisons.  A “no-till” approach would be used on a hilly vineyard site to minimize erosion, losing precious topsoil and causing river silting.  Basically, it’s big picture farming, acknowledging the role that animals, insects and farmworkers all have to play.

There are three general types of organic farming models: heritage, modern organic and biodynamic.  That hundred-year-old, head-trained block of Zinfandel and other mixed reds?  That would be a heritage, or traditional, type of organic farming.  Low input and suited perfectly to its environs.  Because these can be rather low-yielding, most people don’t plant this way any longer.  Purchasing land nowadays is just too expensive for this to be popular.  More common is the modern organic farming method, with close spacing of vines, full trellis systems and fairly intensive viticulture.  The La Encantada Vineyard where we now buy fruit from farms in this way.  Then there is the biodynamic trend which incorporates basic organic methods, but applies a spiritual, astrological philosophy to growing grapes.  This is the most intensive method, with special sprays and micro-inoculations timed to the lunar cycle.  There is no scientific evidence that any of the biodynamic methods make healthier grapes or better wines, but there is a very strong connection between grower and vineyard, which is only a positive.

Look, wine is a luxury product.  We’re not talking about growing rice to feed millions of hungry bellies, so the discussion for which type of farming to use should take this into consideration.  Organic farming is traditional and causes less harm to the environment in almost every case.  In an increasingly busy and populated world, it’s important to have nature be part of farming again.  Creating sustainable and healthy farmland will preserve these open spaces for the generations to come.  Clearly, I’m all for organic farming.

Our 2015 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir is the perfect introduction to spring.  We were very excited to start working with this vineyard, and what you will find is that the wine is enchanting.  It's lightly-framed, but incredibly sapid; you just want to keep drinking it!  The red-fruited aromatics are gorgeous, but there's some serious spice there with the 50% stem inclusion.  The wine is tasting great now, but will reward you with more complexity as it ages.

The La Encantada vineyard was planted by Richard Sanford in 2000 while still at the helm of his eponymous label.  North-facing bluffs overlook the river valley and the farm's large walnut trees.  Sandier loam soils are the norm here, with some more complex rock up at the top of the vineyard.  We purchased Pommard clone fruit and really like the lighter, brighter style of the wines from this spot.

2015 La Encantada Pinot Noir

Strawberry, fresh fig and pronounced graphite notes. Leaner in style, with great acidity and clean finish. 50 cases produced.

92 pts, Wine Enthusiast

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