I believe that an ecologically minded farming approach goes hand in hand with a gentle handed winemaking approach. My first priority in the vineyard is maintaining healthy soil, rich in organic matter, high in microbiological activity and avoiding soil compaction that inhibits the vines roots systems. At significant expense, we go about this by using compost, limiting soil cultivation, avoiding herbicides and using a specialized ultra low ground pressure tractors.
I believe that creating conditions that favor biodiversity are very important since, by definition, wine grapes are a monoculture crop, which tends to limit biodiversity. I allow native, volunteer and some seeded plants to grow both under the vines and in rows, with the thought that a multitude of plants, having roots at various depths will promote both microbiological diversity and overall microbiological activity. In between parcels, I maintain large strips of undeveloped grass and woodland zones.
The often foggy, cool weather patterns that we get in this part of the Russian River Valley produce wine with great acidity and depth, but it does come with the steep price of very high mildew pressure. Rather than reaching for the strongest pesticides available, I rely on good, old-fashioned work ethic and careful timing of our vine tending. All of our quality oriented procedures such as shoot positioning, shoot thinning, crop thinning and careful pruning also reduce the demands on the natural products that we use to prevent mildew. The new vineyard installations on the estate have close row spacing, high vine density, and careful orientation to sun exposure.
The steep terrain in our vineyards have qualitative attributes of promoting well drained soils and naturally lower yields, but can be erosion prone and cause safety issues with the farm equipment. The largest agricultural pollutant in Sonoma County is the siltation of streams caused by erosion so we encourage dense cover crops in the wetter months of the year, with strategically placed surface drains and bio-catchment zones near riparian areas, where appropriate. To deal with the rugged conditions, we use exotic European tractors built for similar conditions. Much of the farm equipment has on-site, customized fabrication features.
Our estate vineyards have been certified Organic and Biodynamic since 2003 and while about 1/3 of grapes come from purchased grapes, I only work with growers with a similar approach. My bare minimum requirement for purchased fruit is that there are absolutely no synthetic chemicals used. Most of the grape purchase agreements are sealed with a hand shake rather than third party written contracts.