Frey Organic Grape Growing
Frey Vineyards’ commitment to organic agriculture runs deep. All of the vineyards planted and cared for by the Frey family are under organic management, including our first vineyards planted in the 1960s.
The history of organic grape growing in Mendocino County can be traced back to the early Italian immigrants who first planted grapes here in the late 1800s. Before the introduction of agricultural chemicals following WWI, all grape growing and food production was in essence organic. Many of the early grape growing families resisted the pressures to accept modern chemicals in favor of their traditional “organic” methods. The myriad chemicals approved for use on grapes are not only expensive but hazardous to the health of those working in the vineyards, as well as those living around them and downstream.
Frey Vineyards, along with a handful of other family owned vineyards in Mendocino County, joined CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) in 1980. From these vineyards Frey winery created the first wines in the US to be made from certified organic grapes. Many of these pioneering certified organic vineyards still produce fruit that is used in Frey wines today. In 2008, fruit from over 30 certified organic grape growers was utilized to make twelve varietals of Frey organic wine. Over the years Frey Vineyards has helped many of these growers through the process of certification, helping to increase the total organic vineyard acreage in Mendocino County to over 3500 acres.
Organic grape growing is more than just resisting the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. We implement mechanical cultivation in place of toxic herbicides. In place of chemical fungicides we use natural sulfur and biological controls to combat powdery mildew and botrytis bunch rot. By creating a bio-diverse farm landscape that encourages natural predators, we eliminate the need for insecticides. All of our fertility needs are generated on the farm by cover cropping and making compost.
Cover crops are planted in the fall and tilled under in the spring using a fertilization technique known as “green manuring”. These cover crops include a variety of grasses, legumes and mustards that protect the soil from erosion, fix nitrogen into the soils and offer a habitat for many beneficial insects. The benefit of cover cropping over a period of years is apparent in the health of the soil and the quality of our vines. Cover cropping is also a form of companion planting. Mustards, for example, when grown alongside grapevines help discourage soil born nematodes that would feed on grapevine roots.
Another important organic practice involves the use of compost in the vineyard. At Frey Vineyards, we recycle all of our grape pumice back into the vineyard after it is composted with other organic ingredients including manure, old hay, and garden waste. By returning this valuable resource back to the vineyard we close our fertility loop and achieve sustainable soil management. Compost applications help maintain a healthy level of organic matter in the soil and feeds earthworms and soil microorganisms that make minerals bio-available for our vines.
Organic farming is a healthy alternative to the conventional practices of blanket chemical applications and large-scale mono-cropping. Frey Vineyards is dedicated to growing the highest quality winegrapes, which we believe can only be obtained through organic practices. It all starts with healthy soil, because only healthy soil can grow the highest quality grapes that produce the finest organic wines.
Biodynamic® Grape Growing
Derek Dahlen, our vineyard manager, holds a master's degree in Biodynamic Agriculture from the New College of California. He has identified six principals as the foundation of Biodynamic farming.
Principles of Biodynamic Farming:
- All organic certification guidelines must be met.
- Farm management encourages biodiversity on multiple levels (i.e. soil microbiological life, cropping systems, wildlife, livestock).
- Pest control focuses on solutions based on living internal dynamics of the farm, rather than importing inputs from outside sources.
- Practice conservation of on-farm resources including water, soil, genetic diversity, human resources.
- Use of all the Biodynamic field sprays and compost preparations on a consistent and annual basis.
- Fertility system focuses on closing nutrient cycles so that fertility is generated from life on the farm rather than being imported.
More About Biodynamic Farming
The mission of Demeter, USA, the Biodynamic certifier in the US is to heal the earth through agriculture. Biodynamic farmers are called practitioners because the practice of nurturing the soil and farm organism goes hand in hand with the production of crops. Rudolph Steiner, the father of Biodynamic Agriculture, incorporated composting and nutrient cycling principals from around the world with his personal observations of living systems to develop the foundation for Biodynamic practices.
Biodynamic agriculture recognizes that the living soil is the heart of a farm. Vibrant, living soil is the key to growing healthy plants and in turn feeding healthy animals and people. Over time, all successful agrarian civilizations developed farming systems that were in concert with their surroundings, recycling nutrients and not dependent on outside inputs. By nurturing and feeding the soil the farm continues year after year,into future generations.
The use of the Biodynamic preparations, Steiner's concentrated composts,is required on certified Biodynamic farms. Their use nourishes the soils and the plants and helps balance the living energies on the farm. Luke Frey, one of the 12 Frey children, initiated our transition to Biodynamics in 1996, and made Frey Vineyards the first winery in the U.S. to be certified Biodynamic. Luke makes all of our preparations, grows the needed herbs, raises our animals, gathers their precious manures, and stores the preparations. The finished preparations are stirred into water and applied to the soil, or added to our compost piles. By making our own compost and preparations, we are no longer dependent on fertility inputs from off our property.
The Biodynamic agricultural model overcomes the problem of input substitution organic farming, which simply replaces a chemical input (fertilizer or herbicide) with a naturally derived product. We support organic farming on all levels, but it is important to consider which inputs are being brought onto the farm, where they are sourced and what the long-term implications of their extraction and distribution are.
Biodynamic farms are one example of vital, healthy agriculture without importing fertilizers and other amendments. We continually research new advances in fertility and agricultural systems management, and look forward to implementing new practices that fit our family, our farm and our bio-region.