How Does Organic Winemaking Work? Part II
Images courtesy of author.
This article is continued from yesterday looking at how Bonterra winery is the leader in organic grape growing, and just how do they keep their plants healthy and the bugs away without the help of pesticides.
When we left off, we were talking about the use of organic and biodynamic planting methods. Part II of this article will cover several of the organic research projects ongoing at the vineyard, the importance of water, particularly with the threat of climate change, as well as some of the other sustainable practices that Bonterra implements.Research With University of California - Davis
They have also been working with University of California — Davis (UCD) professors and researchers for years trying out different methods. Currently, a UCD student is studying whether locating birdhouses throughout the vineyards will help to keep bug populations down. The houses are currently 75% populated and the results of the study should be out later this year.
Another UC Davis study showed that these plant/animal corridors planted right next to the vines attract so many bugs, there is at least a 30% reduction in leaf hopper populations in either direction of the corridor by attracting bugs to the corridor. By adding cover crops under each of the vine-rows, this extends the protection another 30% into the crop.
UC Davis has been helping Bonterra since the vineyards first went organic almost 20 years ago, and their studies suggest that, all things considered, the extra costs of going organic are actually a wash compared with purchasing chemicals and losing crops due to homogeneity.
The Importance of Water
The Bonterra ranches all use a dry-farming method, meaning no irrigation, though they do have water sprinklers throughout the vineyards. This allows the winemakers to protect the grapes when the temperatures get too cold and also allows them to mock cooler temperatures around the vines when temperatures are too high. Several of the vines are also planted closer to creeks due to the benefits of different soil makeups. It takes roughly 325,000 gallons of water per acre-foot, and Bonterra is 96 acre-feet, with 908 vines per acre. That amounts to roughly 32.2 million gallons of water needed each season.
The predicted effects of climate change on the winery is also a major concern, particularly when it comes to water resources. The area gets 30-40" of rain each year and all water is supplied by reservoirs on the property. This year, the ranch is already at November water levels and it is only August. While winemakers can use predictions to get ready for the season by foregoing early irrigation, using smaller plants, and change sprinkler frequency, it can be scary because farming is part luck. According to Coball, "Water is gold. If you have the rights, you can probably up your property value."
Talking with Coball, its clear that he enjoys his job and the challenge of keeping all of these grapes alive and growing on schedule. There is always something new to learn, remarks Coball, because nature throws a curveball every year.
Each year, Bonterra sells 296,000 cases of wine made from organic grapes. They do add sulfites, because they feel this is part of the long tradition in winemaking, but it is this distinction that keeps Bonterra from stating that their wine is 100% organic, thus each label says "made from organic grapes." Though organic wines have to cap their sulfite levels as 100 parts per million (ppm) compared with the 350 ppm allowed for conventional wines.
The winery began in 1987 and was first certified organic in 1990, but sales were slow until 1998 when environmental awareness really turned a corner. Bonterra uses this success to encourage and educate other area wineries to become organic. They also practice reuse on their property like saving and reusing the cat-tails that they are required to cut down each year, by drying them out and tieing the vines with the dried reeds. This eliminates plastic waste from littering the vineyard at the end of each season. The labels on each of the bottles are made with recycled paper and use soy-based inks. In total, Bonterra has 1127 acres of organic vines, and 220 acres of biodynamic vines with an additional 60 acres under development. Buildings on the property also use reclaimed wood in much of the construction.
With the good location, the aid of area animals, the active biodiversity on the property and the reuse of many of the materials, Bonterra shows that its possible to be a successful farm without the addition of chemicals.
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