From the Oregon Wine Press, August 1, 2012
Several years ago, I discovered that rockin’ wine often comes from sustainably farmed grapes. With a new-found passion for natural wine, I wanted to learn more and dig deeper. Through research — and a bottle or two — I have unearthed the following conclusions:
1. Diversity on the farm and a strong immune system go hand and hand.
2. Through observation, the farmer discovers the assets of his farm and, as a result, builds a growing, evolving, living relationship with the land. The depth of that relationship supports the ongoing health of the farm.
3. The farmer/farm relationship is what can allow the farmer to not put round pegs in square holes when making choices. This supports a set of dominoes which keep the farm’s immune system strong. The easier things fit together, the less stress on the system, the more naturally the whole system works.
4. When you take, you must give back. That’s what makes any relationship work well and sustainably. If you remove the natural vitality from the soil (because it’s been absorbed by the products harvested), then that vitality needs to be given back. Indigenous cover crops and composting — created ideally from materials on the farm — are a couple ways to accomplish this.
5. Synthetic chemicals used in farming can help in the short term but come with side effects, including nutrient and diversity depletion. Think of taking medicine for an ailment and how it affects your system, especially if you take it long-term. How do you support your overall health, and what might you do to balance or counteract the side effects of taking medicine both short and long-term.
6. Agriculture doesn’t exist in nature; its roots go back approximately 10,000 years. When a farmer takes away the natural diversity, a lot of conscious work is required to reinvigorate the soil and the environment with diversity and vitality.
7. Farm as if it were 1850. Huh? Use what’s on the farm to support the farm. Think of it like a closed loop system. If you want to build a house or wall, where does the wood and stone come from? The idea is to create a closed loop system, where the nutrients and resources needed to nourish that system come from within that system.
A commitment to move in these directions can lead to sustainability defined as: leaving the land healthier than it was before farming; passing a healthier place on to our kids and their kids; and minimizing the pull of resources from outside the farm.
Specific practices include animals on the farm, biodiversity, Biodynamic farming, energy conversation, family farming, good worker policies, natural winemaking, packaging conservation, polyculture (growing or raising different plants and animals on the same land) and water conservation.
Cheers to the wineries walking the talk while putting in the bottle wines that rock. Luckily for us here in Oregon, this trend is becoming more the norm and less of an exception.
Jeffrey Weissler writes about natural and organic wine on his blog, ConsciousWine.com. Originally from New York, Weissler now lives in Portland, via Ashland.