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."
We waited five months for all the baby goats to arrive and finally last March our herd of mothers delivered the next generation!
Baby goats in vineyard.
Ten baby goats joined the farm family with 8 of those being billy goats (males). Only a few weeks old, they're already learning how to play with each other by butting heads and frolicking in the fields. Each day Daniel herds the rambunctious crew to the vineyard in front of the winery where the grass is particularly lush this season. We've been having lots of visitors who come to meet the goats.
Baby goat nibling on a grape stem.
Last week, in all the excitement of walking the goats back from their pasture to the barn, one baby black goat got left behind. The little billy must have been hiding with the cows or the sheep who were also enjoying the pasture when the goats were called in. When we went back to get him, we were delighted to find that the little goat made new friends with his pasture neighbors the cows. In fact, he had established a special bond with Maybelle, who happily allowed him to nurse to keep his energy up while his goat mother was unavailable!
Sweet spring days of milk on the Frey farm! This orphaned goat found a bovine surrogate while its new step-sibling looked on. Later it was returned to its mama goat.
When I heard the words “Sacred Agriculture,” the first thing that popped into my head was that I was raised by a mother who believed in fairies. I’d like to tell you how those fairies led me to Biodynamics and eventually to the beautiful land in Mendocino County in Northern California that was to become Frey Vineyards. My mother discovered her fairies in the woods and brooks of Vermont, but managed to find them again in the perennial garden she created in the backyard of our little house in Holland, MI.
I would spend hours nose down in the lilies of the valley under the lilac bush daydreaming about the hidden intricate world of the fairies and sometimes spotting evidence; a broken stem or little flower caps strewn upon the ground were signs of a night of wild revels.
But eventually I grew up, went to a Quaker College, became a Vietnam War activist and a hippie and moved to California, and generally got distracted from the fairies. Still, I managed to spend parts of each summer working with my grandfather in his perennial garden. He would chat with his garden and ask it what it wanted him to do next. I came to see the dozens of beds as a responsive and living being. By now I was seriously considering a career in the nursery business, so when I heard about a Biodynamic Agriculture conference at High Mowing Waldorf School in New Hampshire, I decided to check it out. I was thunderstruck with the beauty of a display of sensitive crystallization images.
Sensitive crystallization provides the viewer with a visual preview of the unique fingerprint possessed by a given substance.
The deep, hidden, exquisite intricate order thrust me back into the land of fairy and I vowed to learn more about Biodynamics.
Returning to California, I apprenticed with Alan Chadwick. Fellow apprentices were Jonathan Frey, who was to become my husband, and Chris Tebbutt of Filigreen Farm in nearby Anderson Valley
Alan Chadwick raspberry pruning demonstration.
Chadwick saw man’s central occupation as a gardener and farmer, always giving back to the land selflessly and being rewarded with the glorious abundance of nature. He taught us the French Intensive Biodynamic method, lectured on Rudolf Steiner, introduced me to the Revolutionibus, the rhythms of the cosmos, the Archangels and the elemental beings. My fairies were back.
After a year and a half of apprenticeship, Jonathan and I got married and moved to the Frey Ranch in Mendocino County and started to lay the groundwork for Frey Vineyards. Today we have grown from 100 to 1000 acres.
Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley, California
We farm 140 of the 1000 acres with the vineyards meeting the edges of the forest. At Frey Vineyards we delight in the biodiversity of our land, whether it be the native wildlife in our forestland, the cover crops replenishing our soil, or the multi-talented four generations of the Frey Family who live here. Each of them has their unique experience of SACRED AGRICULTURE.
Clockwise from top left: Luke Frey; Johnny Frey; Karla, Rob & Leora Gitlin; Matthew Frey.
Luke Frey, my brother-in-law, has made it his job to produce all of our Biodynamic preparations and to care for our farm animals with great devotion. He is a master prep maker, studying with Hugh Courtney at the Josephine Porter Institute and completing Dennis Klokec’s Consciousness Studies Program.
We have a lot of hard-core gardeners on the ranch. My son Johnny, seen here double digging our garlic bed, is a devotee of Yogananda, who saw God in all mankind and taught man to seek for meaningful work and then perform it in a sprit of gratitude and service.
Karla Frey’s garden anchors her to the Jewish cycles of celebrations. The Sukkat festival reminds us that God will provide for man’s needs and man in turn must be grateful.
Brother-in-law Matthew married Sandra from Bolivia and has embraced the Inca philosophy of no separation between man and nature. Matthew’s garden is his sense of connection. He says, “If I’m late at planting it, it calls me. I save my seeds and somehow they know me the next year. Every time I add a garden vegetable to my meal, it becomes a part of me and keeps my body and mind and spirit balanced.”
As you can see, we have a beautiful rainbow of philosophies about SACRED AGRICULTURE. At the same time Frey Vineyards is a big business selling 92,000 cases of wine across North America, Europe and Asia. So how do we communicate our agricultural practices to our customers?
Stay tuned for the second part of Katrina’s article on Sacred Agriculture in our Spring Newsletter.
Our Warre beehive swarmed today! We gathered to watch as the buzz intensified, rose up into the air, and found a place to rest in a tall redwood tree.
Life on the farm is full, as baby goats, little lambs, and spring plants take in the warm sunshine and thrive in the lush green landscapes of the farm and vineyards. This past weekend the Frey family hosted an Earth day celebration with foods from the land, to honor the abundance of life in the spring, and to appreciate the land that we all are grateful to be working with.
In biodynamic news, our preparations went to the BD prep-making conference in Colorado the first week of March along with Luke Frey, the farmer who made them. His preparations were judged to be the best of the conference for their substance, smell, and texture in a panel comparison of all the different preparations being made domestically. Go Luke!
Today we had twin lambs born to a mother sheep under the warm sunshine, while bees buzzed to and from between the plum blossoms and their hives. We're hoping that we get the rain that would be so greatly appreciated in this dry year; and yet, I hope that the fruit trees get a good run at pollination before those rains come down so that we can have a fine set of fruit later in the year. Farmers and gardeners in our climate hardly had a break this past winter. More days than not the weather has been so warm that hibernation just wasn't an option. As seed flats are promising sprouts for the spring and summer, we're looking to make more and more time in the garden to prepare beds for this growing season. Luckily we have had enough rain that the grains in the vineyards are growing steadily, and all our ruminant friends are pleased with this years crop of grasses and pasture options.
Just as the winter solstice came to the Frey Farm, our sheep gave birth in the pasture. We've had three lambs born to date to our herd of Navajo Churros, and all are doing well. Baaaa! For more information about this heritage breed, go to the Navajo Churro Sheep Association website.
Demand for organic food is ever growing, as confirmed by another poll. This is always good news as organic food production is better for everyone's health, and for the planet, in so many ways.
As summarized from ThePacker.com: "...A majority of Americans pick organically produced foods over conventionally produced when given the choice, according to a new poll... Among the reasons for choosing organic, survey participants cited supporting local growers and health concerns..."
Winemaker and vegetarian Paul Frey and his sons planting organic watermelons in vineyard.
Young organic sunflowers at Frey Vineyards.
At Frey Vineyards this year we are experimenting with growing sunflowers to press for high quality organic oils. Sunflower oil is great for cooking and as a body oil. The plants also provide excellent food for our ranch bees as the flowers mature. Sunflower oil is the most important source of food oil in the world, and we are excited to start producing it here.
We chose the Russian cultivar Peredovik sunflower (Helianthus annus). While most sunflowers have an oil content of 25-35%, the peredovic can yield up to 50% oil from its small black seeds. The Peredovic sunflower also has a very short growing season of about 12 weeks which allows plenty of time to maturity despite our wet and soggy spring this year. We will harvest in the fall and press the seeds in our cold-press seed press. This year we expect about 25 gallons and hope to expand in the future.
The sunflower project fits nicely into our ever-expanding quest for more local sources of basic food products. We can harvest them with our small combine, which is also used for harvesting wheat that is interplanted in our vineyards. The spent press cake of the sunflower is a high quality feed for livestock and the stalks will make a great addition to our compost piles.
We will keep you posted about our progress!
The glory of the summer sun shines down this time of year, illuminating the full palette of colors and flavors in the Frey Vineyards gardens. Out past one vineyard, beyond a blackberry hedgerow, Jonathan Frei works with the soil. His experiments began long ago in his childhood garden where kitchen herbs grew around his New Hampshire homestead.
Jonathan Frei in his garden.
After graduating with a B.S. in soil science from the University of Vermont, Jonathan transplanted himself in the West coast where he’s become an acclaimed master gardener, turning the earth into black gold wherever he tills. He adds that he is a “proud father to three amazing children,” two of which were in the garden when we arrived.
When entering Jonathan Frei’s garden one can see his gardening roots where culinary herbs surround his cabin in the woods. Paths lead out from his home between rows of colorful drought-tolerant bushes, many of which were in full-flower when I interviewed him. I brought my four year old son, Osiris, along to visit, and he found bliss in the several patches of Jerusalem sage, sucking sweet nectar from the abundant yellow flowers.
Little Osiris enjoying Jerusalem sage nectar.
Jonathan and I walked to his experimental garden project, where he is cultivating 20 different types of blueberries amidst native perennial trees, shrubs, and poor soils. We grazed on some of the most successful bushes that have provided a taste of fresh fruit for several years now.
Jonathan Frei's organic blueberries.
Aside from his blueberry adventures in homage to his Northeastern heritage, Jonathan has a history of making gardens come to life along the West coast. He worked at what is now the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, to lead a team of gardeners there years ago. Later, in Mexico, he started the internationally acclaimed organic garden of Rancho La Puerta in Baja, California. These days, when Jonathan isn’t working at the winery to help produce and promote Frey wines, he’s working with the land, perfecting the art of kitchen garden design, and pairing aromatics with vibrant flowers – all to create a whimsical and functional landscape.
Spring is in the air, in the barn, and in the fields! All the animals are enjoying the lush pasture from the rains, and have been steadily munching for months. Our goat herd has grown, and the goats that kidded in March now have attentive young following them on the goat walks through the vineyards. Because of the "bud break" (when the grapevines begin to sprout new shoots for this year's growth), the goats, cows, horses, and sheep are moving out of the vineyards to find forage instead in the meadows and grasslands. The chicken flock has also matured, making eggs for Easter omelets. The free-range eggs reflect the nutritious green grass of the pastures, as the chickens who graze on it have the beta-carotene needed to produce really rich and orange egg yolks. One of our hens went broody and hatched out her first nest of little chicks this week. And we have several "teens" strutting around the barnyard too, enjoying the bugs and grasses that this season brings.
Fresh farm eggs.