(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!
As the season turns to Fall, we have a lovely abundance of fruits and vegetables coming through the garden. For the cold months to come we’re making applesauce, sun dried tomatoes, frozen pears, and even some acorns – all part of the Autumn harvest ritual. The grapes are in full swing, and once they've been harvested from the home ranch, the domestic animals from the farm get to forage in the vineyards once again. Grass is great, but goats have a definite sweet tooth when it comes to munching leftover grapes on the vine!
Grapevine in fall colors after light rain.
Along with the bounty of fresh, ripe produce, the herbs which will grace our dishes for the year to come are in full profusion at present, and it's a lovely and lively time to harvest our spice mixes before the rains and cold take their toll.
We are hoping for a flourish of good, long soaks. We had our first major rain already, and we're all wondering what the weather will bring for the near future! Each morning a cool coastal overcast blankets the sky, so we can harvest comfortably on the early side before the heat sinks in. Little sprouts are popping up in the fields, and the land is thirsty for consecutive downpours. Even that little taste of the wet weather got us all excited about the down time of a farmer's lifestyle: while rains let loose all around outside, we get to curl up with some herbal tea by the stove and read books, plan out next year's garden, and rejoice in the past year's foods in the form of homegrown sourdough wheat breads and warming squash soups.
Canada geese take flight at Frey Vineyards.
At the end of summer one of our cows gave birth to a beautiful heifer calf. The newborn playfully explores the barnyard, getting into mischief that only such a huge baby can! The milking pails are filled to brimming each morning with the new mama in milk, and so we've been working with new cow cheeses in the kitchen. Also, our farm interns just made their first batch of goat milk soap, and are letting it cure in the outdoor kitchen.
Spiderweb in oak tree at edge of vineyard.
Goats grazing in Frey organic vineyard.
Spring on the Frey farm has come early this year. The sun shine and rainfall has made a lush and lively winter. Baby lambs frolick in the meadows. Pregnant goat moms are heavy with kids as they take their daily walks to browse and fertilize the vineyards. Our duck and chicken friends have recovered from the cold weather with lots of deep orange egg yolks from their free-ranging escapades. The days on the farm are spent managing the farm animals, lettiing them eat the rich green grasses.
My husband and I tend the herd of goats. We milk and walk the goats each day, and bring them special treats like raspberry and blackberry leaves to prepare them herbally for the kidding season ahead. I try to notice which of the does is "bagging up" in the udder, which indicate she’s pregnant. During this month I'll make several trips to the barn to check if anybody is showing other signs of babies on the way. Fresh straw is spread out, and we partition off parts of the barn as the “delivery rooms.” This year, three goats are expecting: Sophia, Cardamom, and Lhasa. I like to be the midwife, helping along any births, and giving the mother a post-partum tonic of molasses, wheat bran, and ivy (a recipe that I got from Juliette Barclay Levi's fantastic work "The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable").
As the sun warms everything up and the days get longer, we’ve been making Biodynamic preparations. They are made at the farm with ingredients from the farm, and stored in ceramic vessels. We apply the "500" preparation in the spring to bring renewed strength and nourishment to the soil. My father-in-law, Luke Frey, has been studying these Biodynamic formulas for over a decade. The preparations foster vitality in the soil and to the farm as a whole. Biodynamics were brought forth by Rudolph Steiner in 1924, and treat the farm as one large self-sustaining organism. We add these "preps" to hand-swirled water vortices, acting as homeopathic medicinal blessings of fertility and creativity for the farmer, the farm, and the planet. Biodynamics goes beyond organic, connecting the soul to the soil. Click here for more information about Biodynamic agriculture.
The weekend begins Friday January 9th, with a lecture from Dennis Klocek of the Coros Institute on the topic Where is the Elemental World? From the course description: "The fundamental question is how can those who work with nature establish a relationship that is personal to the forces and activities that lie behind natural phenomena? Starting in the crystal heavens of the alchemists, Dennis will present the layers of forces consolidating from the cosmic etheric realm through the etheric formative realm to the elemental realm. At each stage meditations will be suggested that can help to link the consciousness of the worker to these particular kinds of phenomena and the beings who stand behind them. Topics will include: the four ethers; crystallization of gems; alchemical planetary influences through the seasons; salt and sulfur in plant growth as symbolic consciousness; and the spagyric process of the alchemist Paracelsus as a meditative tool for research."
The lecture begins at 9am and goes until 5pm. There will be a lunch break and a suggested donation of $85-100; nobody will be turned away for a lack of funds. Registration is available at the door.
Saturday the schedule is open to the public and free (for the full schedule with a timeline please go here). There will be a keynote speech by Dennis Klocek at 10am and also a Nature Walk with local author Kate Marianchild at 2pm (her book, "Secrets of the Oak Woodlands" was published by Heyday this year). Bring a potluck item to share at a delicious farmer lunch gathering midday. Biodynamic preparations are often available for purchase, and for those interested in more information about biodynamics and the BDANC, this is a fine event to attend! Sunday's meeting brings together the BDANC staff to discuss topics within the organization.
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.
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.
Milked by hand, made by hand! (Our cheese is not for retail sale, but you can try it at ourWine Club events at the winery!)
Milk was never appealing to me. It was rather tasteless and too watery, not to mention the fact that it came in a plastic bag on which the words “homogenized” and “pasteurized” were clearly highlighted. That is part of what I experienced growing up in a big city like Bogotá, Colombia. At least, to balance things out, home-made cooking was the norm and grandma’s love for the kitchen could turn any store-bought produce into a delicious meal.
For the past six months I have been working and apprenticing at Luke Frey’s Biodynamic Farm at the Frey Ranch in Redwood Valley where I have been given the task of milking two lovely Jersey cows and turning their milk into a variety of dairy products, especially cheese.
Where it all begins.
Could raw milk really taste so delicious? Could real butter seem so yellow? Could fresh whey be so sweet? Could the cream that rises to the top be so thick? Could one fall in love with the art of making cheese and devote oneself to tending the wheels as if they were tender living creatures? These are some of the questions that confronted me as I entered into this commonsensical way of living.
The farm also produces an abundance of seasonal vegetables, herbs and fruits as well as fresh eggs. Meat is harvested once or twice a year from the different farm animals in a humane and conscious way.
With this vast array of wholesome ingredients the possibility of creation is limitless and the sacrificial act of cooking and eating brings satisfaction beyond measure. When one sits at a table and beholds the many simple delicacies that have been handcrafted and gathered within an eighth of a mile radius, it becomes a healing experience that nourishes the whole of man. At least this has been my experience.
Emily (wife of Luke Frey) and Christian with the final product!
Thus, it’s not surprising to find that when one participates harmoniously with the stream of life, it has the potential to evolve further through our own efforts. So, in a sense, real alchemy is at our fingertips as long as we become familiar with and respect the integrity of life. For this, the farm environment offers an ideal setting for greater learning, enjoyment and exploration.
Our cheese is not for retail sale, but you can try it at our Wine Club events at the winery!
Blackberry hedge next to Frey organic and biodynamic Chardonnay vineyard.
Hot summer days have brewed up delicious batches of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, and basil. Our Mediterranean climate offers us a diverse crop of annuals to accompany the vast bounty of vineyards coming into fruition. The gardens are producing all kinds of delectable veggies, but the grapes are still getting the solar power they need for their glory in the Fall. I watch the grapes ripening each morning as I walk the rows, the clusters getting bigger and bigger as the weeks go by and the sun shines down. When the summer heat has passed, the fruit will be plenty plump and their sugars rich enough for the harvest!
Ripening organic grapes.
In Spring, my food foraging walks in the vineyards began with ripe mulberries; now there are peaches, too. The blackberries in the hedgerows are wildly stretching their tendrils. Besides providing food and habitat to local wildlife, they are one of my favorite foraging delights.
Ripe peaches in the vineyard!
The grapes take center stage as the heat wanes and the season shifts to cooler days and longer nights. Last but not least, our olive trees will be ready to give their gifts to the press for full-bodied oils. When enjoying a bottle of Frey Biodynamic wine, we hope you will appreciate the terroir of the land that encompasses the richness of not just the grapevines, but the diverse array of flavors, in concert.
Organic olive tree in Frey biodynamic vineyard.
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."