Since our beginning in 1980, we’ve been innovators in the organic winemaking field. Innovation involves asking questions: How can we develop the best vineyard management practices to accomplish a holistic farming system? How can we increase carbon-sequestration in our soil? How can we explore new techniques on the bottling line to preserve our wines’ delicate flavors? The wines we produce have always been a direct reflection of our ecological goals and our stewardship ideals.
Behind-the-scenes at the winery is our commitment to environmental protection through our packaging. Over the years we’ve taken strides to seek out environmentally friendly packaging options and like-minded vendors to work with. We’ve experimented with different types of closures, recycled label papers, and shipping boxes. In the same way our customers make a difference by supporting organic agriculture, we can make a difference with sustainable packaging choices.
For the last several years we have been sourcing our corks from Ganau, a company based in Sardinia, Italy. Ganau has been sustainably harvesting cork from Mediterranean forests since 1941. We purchase Ganau’s agglomerated corks, which are formed from micro-granulated bits of cork compressed into a solid closure. Molded corks are a resourceful use of cork scraps and help maintain the cork industry as zero waste. Ganau uses a proprietary steam-cleaning process to remove TCA, a compound that can impart musty flavors in wine, as an alternative to the conventional chlorine-heavy method. The agglomerated corks work well for us because they create a tight seal on the bottle that prevents any oxygen infiltration, which is essential to protecting our non-sulfited wines. Oxygen-taint is down significantly since incorporating Ganau into our bottling line, and we are so happy with the results.
Envi 100 Wine Labels from Monadnock paper mill
With the redesign of our Biodynamic portfolio in 2013 we wanted to source a recycled label paper that would truly represent the ecological principles of the wine inside the bottle. After much research and development (think: mock-up wine bottles plunged into ice water baths to test for durability, and shipped to Frey friends across the country to test for scratches) we were thrilled to discover Monadnock mill in New Hampshire. Founded in 1819, Monadnock is the oldest continuously operating paper mill in the United States. Monadnock developed Envi Performance Label stock to be 100% PCW recycled, Forest Stewardship Council Certified, and processed chlorine-free. The paper has all the elements we were looking for and it prints beautifully.
Monadnock produces up to 50% of its electricity requirement with onsite hydropower, with the other half derived from purchased wind-power, and all their products are manufactured carbon neutral. Their dedication to environmentally responsible ingenuity and impact-reduction goals has created a delightful business relationship.
Kraft case boxes and recycled pulp liners
Last fall we debuted our kraft recycled case boxes imprinted with our signature Frey logo. Previously we had been using white cardboard boxes to ship wine to our distributors. The change came about when we started researching the differences between recycled (brown) cardboard and virgin (white) cardboard. Compared to 100% recycled cardboard, each ton of virgin cardboard produced uses 24 trees, 33% more energy, 49% more wastewater, and releases 37% more greenhouse gases in the process. The choice was simple once we realized how we could reduce our footprint in this area.
Our direct-to-consumer shipping materials are also eco-friendly. To cushion our bottles during shipping, we use molded pulp liners that are made from 100% recycled materials in a chemical-free pulping process that uses open-air drying. The pulp liners are also BPI-certified compostable, which is the best option to stay out of the waste stream, and can be composted at your local green waste site or in your backyard compost pile. The winery brochures that we include in each order are printed at Greenerprinter on 100% recycled uncoated paper with vegetable-based inks.
We are grateful to be surrounded by such natural beauty that continues to remind us of our responsibility as caretakers of the land around us. By making ecologically conscious choices at every level of our business, we hope to inform and engage our customers, our suppliers, and our community in a deeper conversation about how we can work together in an increasingly sustainable way.
Mustard blowing in the wind in Frey organic Cabernet vineyard, Spring 2019.
The season turns and cycles of vineyard work turn with it. With the release of the first 2018 wines, we are looking ahead to a great 2019 vintage.
We will be wrapping up pruning next week. Pruning is arguably the most crucial of all vineyard processes, as choices about which wood to remove or leave determines fruit set this year and into the future.
Pruning is also the most time-consuming, labor-intensive task of the year. The human-power needed to prune over 300 acres of grapes is vast, and the work spans December to April. This year the gift of a wet winter has slowed things down a little, with several days missed due to intense rains.
The abundance of water has been great for the growth of annual cover crops. We use a mix of rye grass, triticale, bell beans and pea shoots (check out the post on foraging greens in the vineyard). The cover crops help hold soil in place through wet winter downpours, the roots provide food and habitat for soil life, flowers provide forage for pollinating insects and the bodies of the plants will return to the soil to continue to feed the soil food web.
Each handful of healthy soil can contain billions of vertebrates, invertebrates, fungi and bacteria – the myriad life forms that support all life on earth. Grape vines cannot uptake vital nutrients and water on their own. They depend on these smaller beings to process nutrients and make them bioavailable. This robust yet delicate ecosystem is a universe beneath our feet, and as farmers we feel a duty to protect and enhance it. Our organic practices are a stand against the poisoning of soils, waters, animals and people that is the result of widespread pesticide, fungicide and herbicide use. Chemical agriculture weakens the precious web of life from the ground up.
Refusing chemicals on the farm is more labor intensive, and with lush growth after such a wet winter we anticipate needing to work hard to combat mildew and fungus in the canopy of the grape vines. Wire trellis systems throughout the vineyard allow us to pull canes up and away from the fruit to allow more air-flow around developing bunches of grapes. In particularly lush sites we will also need to thin leaves by hand to ensure mildew and mold do not have a chance to set in.
A busy season lies ahead! Along with routine vineyard tasks we will be adding 16 new acres of Chardonnay vines at the Road D Ranch. Vines have been ordered and plans for irrigation and layout are underway. As always, we appreciate your support of our endeavors and your choice of organic wine, for the planet, the waters, our children, and your enjoyment. Cheers!
Sunset at Frey Organic Vineyards, Spring 2019.
In 2015 we set up an automatic camera in protected forestland near our organic vineyards to learn more about the local wildlife. The camera was placed at a spring high up the mountain. What a surprise it was to discover that so many animals visited to bathe and drink, including bears, foxes, deer, and many species of birds. The abundance of bears was especially surprising, as the shy and elusive creature is rarely spotted in person.
Another surprise was footage of a fisher (Pekania pennanti), a sleek and cat-like member of the weasel family, widespread in Canada. A narrow branch of their territory reaches southward to the northern Rocky Mountains, the Cascade Range in Oregon, the High Sierras, and amazingly along the Northern Coast Range of California where Frey Vineyards is located. It’s a beautiful creature that needs forestland to survive.
In 2016 we added a second camera at a bear wallow about a half mile from the first camera. Familiar faces appeared such as one particularly large, tranquil behemoth of a bear, as well as a wary bear always looking over his shoulder. In the following years we added a couple more cameras, most of which were lost in the great fire that swept through our area in 2017. The one that survived captured scenes of a slow-moving forest fire, which we’ll post soon.
The wildlife just a short walk from our home and vineyards reminds us about the importance of farming sustainably and organically, without synthetic pesticide drift to contaminate the water and ecosystems that sustain all of us. We hope you support organic food production by choosing organic when you can.
Check out our YouTube channel for the short versions.
It takes a lot of energy to turn water into wine. In fact, it takes an average of 6 gallons of water in the cellar to produce 1 gallon of wine. At Frey Vineyards, water is used during the winemaking process for steam-cleaning and sterilizing tanks and equipment, and during harvest season it’s used for flushing out grape stems and seeds from the crusher. The most common conventional method for treating process water from wineries is an aeration pond, which requires constant electricity to pump and reintroduce oxygen. The aeration method is not only energy intensive, it’s also noisy and stinky, as the process can take days, if not weeks, to restore oxygen into the water. What if there was another way to recycle process water back to a beneficial state where it could be re-used for irrigation, without using a tremendous amount of energy and disrupting wildlife (and human life) at the winery?
Enter BioFiltro, an international wastewater treatment company with a patented filtration system that naturally regenerates process water in four hours. Frey Vineyards first met BioFiltro when our winemaker, Paul Frey, attended a Unified wine show where BioFiltro presented their innovative biological process. BioFiltro’s patented BIDA® system is a passive aerobic bioreactor that catalyzes the digestive power of earthworms to naturally filter the water after the winemaking process. This chemical-free system removes grape skins, grape seeds, sugars, and other organic compounds from the water and regenerates millions of gallons of water per year to be used for irrigation and frost protection in our vineyards. Not only is the BIDA® system extremely energy efficient in its technology (it uses up to 85% less energy than the conventional aeration method), it also generates 75-100 cubic yards of worm castings to be used onsite to enrich our soil, increasing the value of this simple and elegant closed-loop system.
How do these hard-working worms do the heavy-lifting? The BioFiltro BIDA® system starts with an open-top concrete basin that is layered up with strata of wood shavings, river cobble, and drainage basins. During start up, BioFiltro inoculates the system with worms and microbes hungry for grape sugars and solids left over from the winemaking process. Water is pumped across the system with sprinklers, and it gravity feeds down through the layers. In the top layer, earthworms munch on larger solids and produce castings rich in microbes and bacteria. By working beneficially and symbiotically together, the organisms form a biofilm, or layers of billions of microbial colonies, that capture, retain, and digest food found in the process water. This film is simultaneously aerated by the worms themselves who are busy moving throughout the system in search of food. From top to bottom, the process takes four hours.
At Frey, our BIDA® system will consist of two beds that are approximately 40’x80’ and 5’ tall. Our system has the capacity to process 10,000 gallons of winery grey water per day, which is the equivalent of 600 showers! The recovered water then gets pumped into our irrigation ponds, where it is stored for future agricultural use throughout the year.
Drawing on simple biological processes that Charles Darwin observed almost 140 years ago, BioFiltro capitalizes on the symbiotic harmony of earthworms and bacteria to deliver a biofiltration system that revitalizes water so we can conserve a precious resource. “When I first met Paul and Johnny Frey [our winemaker and assistant winemaker], they understood everything in a second,” says Mai Ann Healy, of BioFiltro. “After being at the Biodynamic conference last month, it seems like our company has a parallel challenge of showing how returning to the roots of employing natural processes is truly the home run.”
“We were impressed with the simplicity and energy efficiency of BioFiltro’s system,” says assistant winemaker Johnny Frey. “We are also happy to have the compost-enhancing worm castings as a byproduct and return nutrients to the soil.” As water scarcity is increasing everywhere, we felt it was an important time to better manage our water footprint. We’re looking forward to using our BIDA® system at our new winery, and we’re excited about including our BioFiltro tanks on our future winery tours and raising awareness about resource conservation.
Here are photos of the basins under construction at our new winery site. Stay tuned for more updates and photos!
Johnny Frey building the forms for the worm basin.
The arrival of spring has brought fresh cover crops between the rows of our organic vineyards, and is enjoyed by local wildlife on occasion. Each photo can be downloaded in higher resolution for use as your computer's desktop or wallpaper. We hope you enjoy!
Following the wildfire last October, the rain and green grass quickly blanketed the lands with soothing vigor. This intrepid Great Blue Heron is lately making the rounds, hunting for frogs, insects and rodents among the new growth by our organic Syrah vines. These majestic birds, the third-largest herons on earth, usually find their meals by ponds and rivers. This one is broadening its culinary preferences by flushing out wild little edibles in the vineyards, far from the waterways.
(Written by Carolyn Brown, landscaper and gardener at Frey Vineyards.)
In 1924 Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Bio Dynamic Agriculture, discussed in his Agriculture Lectures how we must view the soil as being alive and full of life-giving forces. Also, how a living soil is akin to a plant and how plants themselves are an extension of the soil. This vitality is passed on to us through the energy contained in foods grown from healthy, living soils. That wellspring of life energy is not to be found in soils that have plant nutrients applied in a synthetic, chemical form. Steiner also stressed the importance of making a farm so self contained that it becomes self sustaining; its soil’s fertility is generated, conserved and recycled and the farm becomes its own entity. Creating and applying compost made from spent plants, cover crops and animal manure produced on site is the best way to realize this. The farm’s soil fertility becomes individualized to the land. How different this is from relying on importing soil amendments from different regions or even from different countries.
Current scientific research is discovering how very complex the living soil is. There is a complex relationship between soil mycorrhizae – bacteria and fungi – and the plant kingdom. Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis. These sugars are exuded from plants’ roots into the surrounding soil, which feeds the soil fungi and bacteria. In turn, these soil borne microorganisms help dissolve minerals and nutrients essential for plant growth and make them available in a form that plants can use. The end result is that we get food which is much richer in vitamins and minerals than vegetables grown with synthetic fertilizers. These microorganisms also allow plants to communicate with one and another! Mycorrhizae form a giant underground web connecting plants together. Plants that are being attacked by harmful insect pests pass the word on to other plants, which may protect themselves by making bad tasting chemicals, or chemicals that mimic predatory insect pheromones. These pheromones draw the plant allies into the farm or garden and they keep the bad bugs in check. What a great system! Bio Dynamics means “life engenders life” and healthy living soil creats vibrant, healthy ecosystems and people – a wonderful testimony to this way of farming.
The 2015 North Coast winegrape harvest began earlier than ever. At Frey Vineyards we began crushing grapes on August 24th. The early ripening varieties including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc all matured rapidly and came in quick. Yields of these varieties were also lower than average, leading to worry that the entire 2015 crop would be shorter than expected. Most California wineries can rely on bulk finished wine to compensate for light crop yields. At Frey Vineyards we are limited in our ability to source bulk wines since additive-free wines are not available on the open market.
Organic Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
As we transitioned into harvesting mid-season reds some fields helped make up the difference, with good crops on Merlot, Petite Sirah and some Zinfandel. It became clear early on that the overall quality of the 2015 vintage had potential to be exceptional. With no problem achieving adequate sugars for proper fermentation, late red varieties were allowed ample hang time to become physiologically mature. Not only were the sugars high enough but the grape seeds tasted nutty and the skins shed their bitterness. Meanwhile, seasonable autumn weather preserved optimal acidity for overall balanced fruit flavors.
An inch of rain in early September knocked the dust down and gave the vines a drink to help stall what would otherwise have been a rushed harvest. The rains then held off for another month avoiding any issues with rot and maintaining easy access into the vineyards for harvest equipment.
While we were working to wrap up the earliest harvest on record, my wife Eliza and I also welcomed our second child, Iris Ann Dahlen, into the world. Born on October 12th, in the heat of the last week of harvest, we all felt a sense of relief as the 2015 crush was nearing the end. The final load of grapes, on October 17th, came out of the 50 year-old Easterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard on our home ranch in Redwood Valley, and it was as perfect as its ever been.
Post-harvest organic vineyards in the mist.
Cover crop seeding and fall compost spreading soon followed and went smoothly. We finished in time to take advantage of early November rains. The rains gave the cover crop seed good germination and helped incorporate the compost into the soils. These practices help to feed the soil microorganisms that are the foundation of organic agriculture.
As we put the vines to rest for another winter we can reflect on the previous year. So many things went so well, yet there is always room for improvement. Every trip around the sun we learn from our previous mistakes and inevitably new challenges arise. The only universal constant is change and it is our task to adapt to whatever changes may arise.
Healthy soils, hearty vines, honest wines, happy people! Long live organic wines and family farms!
In our quest at the winery for a carbon neutral impact on our climate, we are always looking for new ways to green our packaging and eliminate waste. In 2013, we began a campaign to modify our wine labels to use 100% post-consumer waste, FSC-certified papers. Now in 2015 we are beta testing a new style of wine bottle closure that is the world’s first closure with a zero carbon footprint. The Select Bio closures from Nomacorc are made with renewable plant-based biopolymers derived from sugarcane. This innovative technology prevents cork taint and oxidation, the closures are produced with 100% renewable energy, and they are 100% recyclable.
Nomacorc's Select Bio closures made from non-GMO sugarcane.
The sugarcane used in the Nomacorc line is grown on non-GMO plantations in Brazil. The sugarcane fields are dry-farmed and replace degraded pastureland, helping to recover soil erosion and increase the carbon content within the depleted soil. Residues from production are closed-looped: they are recycled as fertilization or turned into “bagasse,” a sugarcane bi-product used to produce energy.
Another exciting feature for us is that the Select Bio closures are Demeter® certified. Select Bio closures conform to Demeter’s functional specifications for Biodynamic wines, including the stipulations that a Biodynamic® product must not come into contact with packaging containing chlorine, herbicides, or pesticides.
Our current corks are made from compressed cork shavings fused with a food-based polymer. We have experienced many years of success with them, but we’re always looking for ways to improve our practices with the least amount of environmental impact. There is a general assumption in the wine industry that 3-5% of all wine bottles using a natural cork show some signs of spoilage. The most common reason for spoilage is from oxygen ingress that can occur through the space between the bottle neck and the cork, or through the cork itself. In the case of unsulfited wines like ours, oxygen is a particular culprit in affecting the delicate nature of the wine, so finding the proper closure is imperative. We will be running trials with the Select Bio closures over the next year to ensure that this is the right choice for us.