I recently interviewed Julia Dakin, a local horse woman here in Mendocino County, California, about the horse powered work that’s been happening on the Frey farm. A life-long horse enthusiast, Julia got interested in draft horses a few years ago. She wondered if it would be possible for local vineyards to convert to horse power to do the work currently done by tractors. She met up with Luke and Lily Frey, who have been experimenting with draft horse work on the farm for the past several years.
Luke and Lily have been working to develop a rapport with draft horses on the Frey farm. As they built relationships with the horses, they have branched out to harnessing the horses and accomplishing farm tasks and logging with the horses on the land. Julia noted that logging with horses is one of the most environmental ways to do forestry management, as the horses are able to get into more narrow and tight spaces with far less impact than a road and heavy machinery. The horses get to exercise, and the land gets tended more gently. This last spring, Andy, Bonnie and Lola (the horses), accompanied by Luke, Lily and Julia (the humans), pulled logs out of the forest, tilled the garden beds on the ranch’s biodynamic farm, and tested various implements in the vineyard.
From experiences with the horses, Julia took her research a step farther and enrolled in online classes by Elaine Ingham in soil science. Her studies led her to the field of no-till agriculture. As she’s been delving into the world of soil, she’s been postulating that horses might be able to create a niche for vineyard management, by practicing no-till methods with a roller-crimper tool that is hitched to the horses. Instead of tilling up the soil with a disc, which disturbs the soil life (worms, bacteria, fungi), the roller-crimper moves between the vineyard rows to smash down the cover crop.
If Julia’s work with the horses is successful, they may have a more efficient system of converting cover crops into soil fertility. Also, using the roller-crimper helps sequester carbon in the land, while protecting and nourishing the layers of soil ecology already in place. Julia also hopes to find through current research on test plots, that the soil being worked with the roller-crimper both enriches the land and could prove to be a cost-effective enterprise for local grape farmers, whether or not they use horses. Julia currently has horses that she’s working with to amass some data to look at the roller-crimper horse-power at different sites. Should her efforts prove qualitatively impressive, Julia would like to expand the ways that local vineyards become carbon sinks instead of a carbon source, by transitioning to more horse-powered tasks: seeding cover crops, mowing, roller-crimper, and perhaps harvesting.
Additionally, as part of the biodynamics program on the farm, we prepare a unique blend of organic, homeopathic herbal sprays that we apply to the crops to nurture soil fertility. At present, Julia and Luke have been having some horse-powered spraying sessions to see how the horses fare as the deliver mechanism for these potent land medicines.
There are several factors to weigh in about how and if a farm would convert to a horse-powered technology. Julia is quick to note that with the prevalence of cheap oil and the speed of mechanical inventions, horses have been relegated to a technology of the past. However, with the use of more innovative techniques, like no-till, horses may well prove themselves to be able to compete with mechanized technologyfor the lesser impact they have on the carbon footprint of the land and for the potentially important contribution to increased soil fertility.
For more information on Julia’s research with the horses, follow her blog at www.rganicnotill.com.
Click here for a YouTube video clip.
Frey Vineyards 2011 Field Blend was crafted specifically for Whole Foods customers. Our goal with Field Blend was to produce a Biodynamic® example of terroir at its finest expression, where soil, varietal character, and vintage culminate in an authentic representation of our vineyards.
Field Blend is graced with a subtle nose of red currant, a hint of star anise, iron, and rose hips. The flavors lend themselves to an available freshness showing dewberry, white pepper, red beet, and a touch of licorice. The finish is balanced with apricot, kola nut, and cherry bark. While 2011 presented a challenging growing season for much of Northern California, it also prompted us to take a creative approach with some unconventional blends. For Field Blend, we took the best of our estate-grown grapes, starting with our Syrah for composed structure, melding it with our Zinfandel for added spice, and rounding everything out with our soft, plummy Merlot. Field Blend pairs harmoniously with grilled flank steak with olive sauce, paella with spicy sausage, or penne with porcini mushrooms.
The Field Blend label was designed by our wine club director, Nicole Paisley Martensen. It incorporates a collage of vintage astrological charts and farmers’ almanacs, evoking the origins of Biodynamic farming and its founder, Rudolf Steiner, along with photographs of grapevines and tractor treads at Frey Vineyards.
Surrounding our estate organic and biodynamic vineyards are woodlands and forests that harbor wildlife and sustain local biodiversity, including the wild honeybee. This vital pollinating insect is suffering worldwide from colony collapse disorder, widely believed due to it's extreme sensitivity to modern pollutants, including agricultural pesticides, that weaken their immune system. So last year when we spotted a hive in need of help right at the edge of our Petite Sirah vineyard, we quickly gave them a hand.
The hive was located inside this fallen fir tree.
The bees had their home high up in a fir tree, inside the rotted and hollow interior. A windstorm snapped the tree halfway up and the hive fell. Much of it shattered on impact with crushed honeycombs seeping across the splintered trunk. We were tempted to eat some of the honey, but this food was vital to the bees if they were to survive the rest of the winter, so it was hands off the sweet ambrosia. Luke Frey quickly brought an empty beehive box and put the surviving humming mass of bees in it along with every drop of their precious honey. Then he placed it on top of the fallen tree right next to the old hive.
Here's a short video with some live footage of these beautiful wild honeybees.
It was soon apparent the queen did not survive the fall so a frame with two capped queen cells were put in. We crossed our fingers that the orphaned honeybees would take to their new home and raise a new queen. A few weeks later they were still there! Following the coronation the hive raised a new brood into the spring and summer. But then they were gone! We suspect that they swarmed and made a new hive in an old wine barrel by our Merlot vineyard. It's also possible the colony perished.
Wild honeybees and their shattered, exposed hive.
The location of the honeybee's new hive is circled, next to the Frey Biodynamic Petite Sirah vineyard.
Barrie Lynn at the Cheese Impresario has some great tips to share with you on pairing your favorite Frey wine with fine specialty cheeses. She pairs Frey Organic Chardonnay with mouthwatering Gruyère, Frey Organic Sauvignon Blanc with some creamy goat cheese, and Frey Organic Cab with aged cheddar. Try one of the combinations at your next holiday party! The videos can be found here on YouTube.
Check out this interview with Katrina & Jonathan Frey of Frey Organic Wines, produced by the great people at GIAIM – Healthy Green Living. The interview was recorded a few years ago.