Farming for Success
Even if you understand your vineyard down to the last microbe, you must still decide how you plan to farm your vineyard. Farming methods vary, but the three most important for grape growers are organic, biodynamic, and sustainable approaches.
The organic approach, at its most basic level, shuns the use of any synthetic insecticides, fungicides, and fertilizers in the cultivation of a vineyard. Philosophically, organic growers seek to preserve the delicate ecosystem of which they are stewards, safeguarding the health of the land as well as the health of consumers.
As such, organic growers only use compost and cover crops to fertilize. In order to maintain an ecological balance in the vineyard, spiders and ladybugs manage pests; owls and hawks manage grape-hungry birds, such as starlings. However, growers are still free to use fungicides based in copper and sulfur if they deem them appropriate.
Wines labeled organic have been certified by a government body, and what constitutes an organic wine varies from country to country. For example, a wine labeled organic in the United States cannot contain added sulfites. Wines that do have some added sulfites but were otherwise farmed organically can be labeled as “wine made from organic grapes.”
This is the most spiritual of the farming approaches covered in this chapter. Biodynamic growers attempt to understand the biological rhythms of the earth and apply such understanding to vineyard operations. For example, much like lunar forces control the tides of the ocean, these same forces exert an influence over grapevine physiology. At Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley, harvest is halted on days when these lunar forces pull water up into the vine, diluting the grapes.
Like organic farmers, biodynamic farmers can combat fungus and nurture healthy soil by applying sprays and compost, but these must be provided by the Josephine Porter Institute in Virginia. Hawks and owls are also the friends of biodynamic farmers. Biodynamic certifications are available, though not by any government agency.
Practitioners of sustainable agriculture have goals virtually identical to those of organic and biodynamic farmers. The key difference is that sustainable farmers have no guidelines to follow. They can literally assess every farming technique on its own terms. They might choose to have goats eat the nitrogen-generating cover crops between the vines, not because they must, but because they have decided that the exhaust generated by using mechanical mowers is too damaging to the ecosystem they are trying to keep in balance.