Romantic fantasy....or, a full time second job?
In 2006, I came across a magazine article about a vineyard in Napa that grew grapes using organic and Biodynamic principals. Biodynamics is a holistic farming approach developed in the 1920s by the Austrian scientist-philosopher Rudolf Steiner and is the oldest sustainable system of agriculture practiced in the western world today.
Steiner, spoke about this system as a way of life—a collaborative, communicative relationship between humans, animals, plants and the soil. Steiner also reminded us that our soil is the soul of our planet. In this system the goal is to harness all the forces around you – not just the sun, but the moon, stars and the earth itself. While it encompasses many of the principles of organic farming, such as the elimination of all pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers, Biodynamics goes further, by viewing the vineyard as a self-sustaining organism within the surrounding ecosystem. It relies on compost, biological pest control, and cosmic forces to put life back into soils and into the ecology of the vineyard.
In the spring of 2007 our vineyard was planted which started us down an adventurous path with moments of laughter, terror, hard work and ultimately a satisfied sense of accomplishment. Our first order of business was to keep the local deer away from our young vines. We enlisted the help of our trusty, fearless, and newly promoted “vineyard dog” Zuma Cortez, a 75 pound black standard poodle. Unfortunately, Zuma’s deep sleeping patterns didn’t always deter the deer as we had hoped. Zuma did however prove to be a fearsome protector from a random skunk that happened by. (Although, it did take several baths and a trip to the groomer to remove the skunk smell.)
We also undertook more unorthodox methods recommended by our vineyard consultant, such as spraying “coyote urine” on the end posts (I didn’t ask how he acquired it). It worked great at deterring the deer in the area; however it also attracted every coyote within 10 miles. Some nights we thought we were living in the coyote version of the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”. We can’t help but chuckle every time we think of those dozens of howling coyotes and our vineyard dog hunkered down in the living room (again proving why standard poodles are considered one of the most intelligent dogs). Eventually we erected a deer fence and with our vineyard secure turned our attention towards growing premium wine grapes.
In 2009 we harvested our first crop. When grapes reach ripeness, the sugar levels attract birds which see the vineyard as a huge fruit bowl. Bird netting placed over each row solves most of the problem with the birds, however the holes in the netting are too large to keep out wasps which can smell the sugar in the grapes from up to a mile away. To our dismay we began to see our hard work eaten by the wasps in front of our very eyes! Since wasps are dormant at night, we spent an entire night picking the remains of our 2009 crop. The next year we purchased insect netting which are placed over the vines as soon as the first wasps appear. They not only keep out the wasps but keep the fruit in pristine condition before harvest.
Our romantic fantasies have been replaced with the realities of farming without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, extreme weather, back breaking work, pests, plant diseases and wine making chemistry. Yet, walking thru the vineyard, I always feel a mystic serenity which embraces the “soul”.
We hope you enjoy drinking our wines as much as we enjoyed crafting them!
Steve & Sherry