(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.
Forest Stewardship Council release:
“The Forest Stewardship Council mission is to promote environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world's forests.
Our vision is that we can meet our current needs for forest products without compromising the health of the world’s forests for future generations.”
At Frey Vineyards we strive to green every step of our winemaking, from the vineyard to the cellar, and finally to the wine label itself. This year we made the switch to using Forest Stewardship Council Certified paper. We are excited to join forces with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This step is a natural progression in the development of the most environmentally friendly winemaking possible.
In order to include the logo on our labels, the paper must pass through the FSC chain of custody, which ensures sound environmental practices from the forest to the paper manufacturer, the merchant, and finally to a print shop with FSC Chain of Custody Certification. We now have confidence that our label purchasing is supporting an independent, third party movement making real strides towards preserving forestland in the US and abroad.
People all over the world depend on forests to live. Worldwide 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their primary livelihood. Forests filter water and air and the fungal communities in forests support all life on the planet. They are also a crucial refuge for countless plant and animal species. Deforestation is noted as the second leading cause of carbon pollution, and causes an estimated 20% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
In the US most forestland is privately owned and managed. With more than 40,000 family owned member forests, FSC works to create demand for products sourced from responsibly managed forests. Being a member of FSC provides incentives for these families to keep the forests and harvest them sustainably, and not to clear-cut for development or farming.
The Forest Stewardship Council was founded in Canada in 1993 and is dedicated to improving forest practices across the world. The Council formed in response to the lack of an agreement to stop deforestation at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio De Jaineiro. Boycotts of forest products had proven to be ineffective in protecting these vital ecosystems because they lead to devaluation of productive forestland. FSC started as a collaborative project by independent businesses and organizations. They created a chain of custody process and a logo, which have proven to be successful at encouraging responsible choices by consumers. The organization now operates in 80 countries and thousands of businesses and organizations are turning to FSC to help make responsible choices for the purchasing of forest products ranging from lumber to papers.
Apart from their work with paper, FSC has had a big impact on the manufacturing of green building. Green building represents the strongest sector of the construction industry. In 2012 an estimated 25% of all commercial and 20% of residential construction starts were in the category. FSC features over 1,000 Chain of Custody building products with more emerging each year.
We want to thank FSC staff and members for their dedication and innovation in supporting responsible forestry! We are proud to be a part of this growing movement.
Thirteen billion bottles of wine are consumed annually -- that’s a lot of corks left over when the drinking is done! At present, the majority of corks end up in landfills instead of in re-use applications; in the hands of ReCork, they can have a second use. ReCork is North America’s largest cork recycling initiative and is giving wine corks new life in the form of footwear and other upcycled products.
With the help of over 1,700 recycling partners, ReCork has collected over 44 million corks. ReCork frequently partners with wineries, restaurants, wine bars, grocery stores and hotels to collect natural corks. Once collected, the corks are ground down and repurposed for use in new consumer products. SOLE, ReCork’s parent company, produces cork-soled footwear for women and men. In addition to shoes, recycled cork can also be used in flooring, gaskets, bulletin boards, sports equipment, and even used as a soil amendment in compost (natural cork is a valuable source of CO2 retention).
Compared to aluminum screwcaps and petroleum-based plastic plugs, the production of traditional cork wine stoppers has the smallest environmental footprint. While some alternative closure manufacturers are beginning trial recycling efforts, natural cork is still the easiest and best material to recycle: it is biodegradable, renewable, energy efficient, sustainable and 100% natural.
Unlike many forest products, cork oaks are never cut down for their bark. Cork oaks (Quercus suber L.) provide an ideal sustainable crop during a life cycle that lasts over 200 years. A mature, 50 year-old tree can be harvested approximately every 9 years for the life of the tree. Here in California, you can find giant cork oaks on the grounds of the State Capital in Sacramento, on the campus of UC Davis, and a few scattered around as specimen trees in Mendocino County. However, the Mediterranean basin is where most of the world's cork is sourced. There are nearly 6 million acres of cork forests in the Mediterranean regions of Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France, with Portugal being the largest producer by far. The Mediterranean cork oak forests are the basis of an ecosystem which is unique in the world, and which contributes to the survival of many native species of plants and animals, including the endangered European gray wolf and the Mountain Iberian wild goat. It is also a source of employment for tens of thousands of agricultural workers. In addition to their recycling program, ReCork has partnered with QUERCUS (the Portuguese National Association for Nature Conservation) and Criar Bosques, a tree planting initiative in Portugal, and planted over 8,000 cork oaks in the Mediterranean.
Want to know how to get involved? The simplest way is to drop off your corks at a ReCork Public Collection Partner in your area. We’ve been collecting our corks at the Frey Ranch and then dropping them off at our local Ukiah Food Co-op, but you can use ReCork’s nifty drop-off locater to find a location near you. If there is no partner in your area, you can send your corks directly to ReCork in 15lb increments, shipping charges paid. 15lbs equals about 1650 corks (that’s a lot of Frey wine!) so we recommend banding together with your neighbors or workplace to make a joint effort in collecting. By recycling a simple cork stopper we can visualize the product source, its evolution into a useful natural product, and its potential for an extended life far beyond its first use in a bottle of fine wine.
"The Organic Vineyard Alliance (OVA) is a group of winemakers, retailers and distributors who have come together to educate, inform and enlighten you about the benefits of organic wine." - From the OVA Website.
For those of you who love staying informed about the latest in the organic wine industry, a great new website has just been launched. The Organic Vineyard Alliance has been spearheaded by seasoned industry members and offers knowledge and clarification around organic wine.
The site is easy to navigate and full of great information. There is a series of videos featuring our executive director Katrina Frey and other organic winemakers. Also check out the awesome table that lays out the differences between wine categories including USDA Organic, Made with Organically grown grapes, Biodynamic and more.
As time goes on this website is sure to become a clearinghouse for the savvy consumer who wants to keep up to date on the latest and greatest that the industry has to offer. Start exploring now!
In January of this year, Craig Wilkinson, founder of Quantum Culture, a venture creating and trading biodynamically produced and processed goods, visited us here at the winery during the annual Biodynamic Association of Northern California (BDANC) meeting. Craig had been looking forward to conducting an experiment with Biodynamic® dyes for some time, so the weekend BDANC conference at Frey Vineyards was the ideal testing ground. Craig prepared biodynamically grown cotton tee shirts and bandannas in a mordant of alum, and formulated three dye baths: one made from grape lees, another from a filtered grape juice, and one from actual finished wine. Of his experiments, Craig provides the following notes:
- The first dye bath was made from a slightly diluted soupy batch of grape lees, which are the sediment left following the grape crush. The mix was heated for several hours and again the following day. The colors it produced were the lightest of the three baths.
- The second dye bath was made from ‘waste wine,’ which is grape juice collected from the pre- and post-pumping process. The colors were very nice with darker results.
- The third bath was made from nearly a case of 2005 Frey Biodynamic® Syrah made from biodynamically grown grapes. The color was beautiful, and the darkest of the three. The color set very quickly for both the juice and wine, and required no filtering, which made it easier and efficient to work with. Luke Frey and I enjoyed a glass of the Syrah while opening and pouring bottles of wine into the dye vat.
We’re excited about the range of colors, the colorfastness, and the potential for a volume dye bath made from biodynamic winemaking byproducts, and we’re appreciative of Craig’s dedication to the project. Please visit quantumculture.com to view the scope of the research project and find more products made from biodynamically grown cotton.
Ann Krohn & Eliza Frey in tee’s dyed with grape juice and the 2005 Frey Biodynamic® Syrah pictured here.
Frey Vineyards’ core values include purity, quality, truth in labeling and transparency. We choose to hang our hats on the Demeter Biodynamic Farming and Processing Standard that embodies all of these same principles.
This chart shows a concise history of the Biodynamic timeline and the foundations of Demeter:
Biodynamic® is defined by the Demeter Farm and Processing Standards and is protected via a certification mark, which is an inclusive type of trademark. Demeter International is the first, and remains, the only ecological association consisting of a network of individual certification organizations in 45 countries around the world. Demeter US has 163 members and reaches over 10,000 certified acres.
I’d like to point out that Demeter US was formed seventeen years before the USDA National Organic Program (NOP); following the evolution of farming practices in the last century, one could suggest that Biodynamic agriculture is the parent of organic. At Frey Vineyards we adhere to the Demeter Farm Standard, which incorporates NOP practices, but goes a step further because it retains the view of the farm as an integrated whole.
The Demeter standard requires whole farm certification. 10% of total acreage must be set-aside as wild area to promote biodiversity. Because the farm is managed as a self-contained system, fertility is generated via the integration of livestock, compost, green manure, and careful crop rotation. Disease and insect control are addressed through botanical species diversity, predator habitat, and attention to light penetration and air flow. The use of the preparations is required. There are eight preparations in all, made from herbs, mineral substances and animal manures, that are utilized in field sprays and compost inoculants applied in minute doses, much like homeopathic remedies are for humans.
The Farm Standard is historically significant because it dates back to the beginning of the modern sustainable agriculture movement and captures key agronomic principles not comprehensively addressed within any other agriculture certification system. As such, Biodynamic agriculture represents one of the highest paradigms of sustainable farming, and offers one of the smallest carbon footprints of any agricultural method.
Standards are developed democratically, seeking input from farmers and processors and then vetted and voted upon annually by the international Demeter board. The standards are living and evolving and deserve respect from everyone who cares about Biodynamic agriculture and anthroposophy.
Lily Frey by Biodynamic Cabernet vineyard.
You’ll notice that the standard does not attempt to certify a farmer’s spirituality or understanding of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. We believe this is outside the scope of our work. However, we do observe that once a farmer begins to seriously apply the principles and practices of the Demeter standard, they are often quickly led to powerful personal insights.
So how does the Demeter standard inform what we do at Frey Vineyards? We plant leguminous cover crops for soil fertility (top left in photo above). We make our own compost from on farm ingredients (top right). All the herbs for the preparations are grown on the farm, and then applied to the vineyards and gardens (bottom left). And eventually the grapes are harvested at the peak of ripeness. Frey wines are then crafted and labeled in accordance to the Demeter Biodynamic Wine Standard (bottom right).
Over 32 years we’ve trained several hundred interns and aspiring farmers. Other Frey ranch activities include working winter grains into our cover crop rotations. We are doing everything we can to battle GMO’s and educate our customers and fellow farmers. And we continue to develop appropriate power for the winery.
In conclusion, Frey Vineyards is committed to the spirit and spread of biodynamic farming, starting with our children, our family, and our community.
John Muir was thinking about Sacred Connections when he wrote:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is bound fast, by a thousand invisible cords, that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe."
Testing by EXCELL Laboratories in France from the 2009 and 2010 vintages found that only 10% of 300 French wines were free of pesticide residue*. The majority of residues found were fungicides, which are applied late into the growing season. EXCELL Laboratory, which is owned and operated by Pascal Chatonnet, an innovative figure in the French wine business, now plans to offer pesticide residue testing to winery clients. Wines tested that contain no more than five substances in levels 100 times lower than the Maxium Residue Limits Set by the EEC** will be able to use EXCELL’s certification, called “+ Nature”. The idea is to have a scale of pesticide residue that can be put on wine labels so that consumers can choose wines with less contamination.
Frey Biodynamic Petite Sirah, pesticide-free.
A similar study by the European Pesticide Action Network in 2008 found that 100% of conventionally farmed wines in Europe contained pesticide residues. Many of the wines contained traces of several different pesticides. (View a PDF of the report here.) The organic wines tested in the study were all free of pesticides except one; researchers expected the presence of pesticides in the organic wine was due to chemical drift.
The EPA in the US and the EEA (European Environment Agency) would tell you not to worry because the levels of all pesticides were within the legal acceptable limits for each individual substance. This approach fails to look at cumulative levels of all pesticides that were found. Also, lack of research about how these substances interact in combination is a valid concern. As Chatonnet explains, “It is possible that the presence of several molecules combined is more harmful than a higher level of a single molecule.” Chatonnet and others advocate an industry wide shift towards less toxic pesticides, coupled with more precise application methods to avoid overuse of toxic substances.
These studies indicate the benefit of choosing Organic and Biodynamic wines and wines made from Organic and Biodynamic grapes. Not only do they lessen the impact on the environment, they lessen the consumer’s chemical burden. And now, with consistent growth in the Organic and Biodynamic wine sectors, there is more variety than ever before. Cheers To Your Health!
* You can read Decantuer magazine’s summary of EXCELL’s research here.
** The EEC is the EU-Eco Regulation, which is label for products and services that have a reduced environmental impact in the European Union. While raw agricultural commodities are subject to Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) set by EEC agreements, MRLs do not apply to processed foods, including wine. More info can be found here.