Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine


Shinn Estate – The Slow Flow

Shinn Estate is in the first year of their organic certification process. Barbara Shinn shares her progress with us.

May 1, 2010

In the coldest days of winter I dream of the spring sun warming the tops of my feet as I walk through the vineyard. I dream of a triumphant melody playing the song of explosive new growth. And I dream of sweat on my face and dirt on my legs. But now that it is May the real spring surrounds me. It is in fact not fast, it is the exact opposite. It is a slow flow. The pink buds on the vines have gently unfolded into soft green leaves allowing the rays of the sun to slather their surface like sweet butter. The birds sing a swirling chatter almost like a shy giggle while they savor the flavor of the first bug hatchings. The vines are timid, just beginning to show their personalities, as their canes and tendrils reach up, break their silence, and offer their invocations to the skies.

May 6, 2010

Steve Matthiasson visited our vineyard today. He was on the North Fork to spend some time with Joe Macari of Macari Vineyards. Joe and Steve are long time comrades so I have to thank Joe for befriending such an important viticulturist as Steve. All over America, Steve is known as a “thinking man’s (or woman’s) viticulturist.” He consults for over 30 west coast vineyards and developed the Lodi – Woodbridge Sustainability mission statement which later became the model for California’s statewide sustainable wine growing program. I was really looking forward to his visit so we could walk through the vineyard.

Usually when I accompany a visitor in the vines I find myself giving lessons on the soil and its dynamic cycle of life and the vines’ relationship to the soil and sun. This afternoon was completely different. For almost 30 minutes Steve, his wife Jill, myself and David walked in almost complete and comfortable silence. We all knew what we were looking at… bug habitat, crumbly soil, worms in the compost. There was quiet conversation about mowing techniques, hedgerows, phomopsis control, and composting. Steve’s gentle guidance and vast knowledge of holistic farming brought a moment of much needed quietude to the beginning of the growing season. What a day.

May 15, 2010

Bugs. Leafhoppers, grape berry moth. 2 weeks early this year but most at minute levels. The meadow beneath the vines is just beginning to bloom in clover. Next week I will add the ground silica to a foliar application which will keep the problematic bug population in check. It is also the time to make sure the vine has plenty of sunlight and the silica will help with this. Imagine quartz ground as fine as cake flour. The tiny prisms will refract light throughout the canopy rifling it into shaded crevices, increasing photosynthesis. Now is the moment that the sky enters the vine.

May 20, 2010

The moon is gibbous coming to full. Brewing compost tea and dripping it at the base of the vines along with fish and seaweed.

May 27, 2010

Slowly but steadily a network of east coast sustainable wine growers is emerging. From New York to Ohio to Virginia to Pennsylvania, we are all asking each other questions. Most of the growers who contact me are weaning their vineyards off agricultural chemicals to the cleanest degree possible. Their dream is to be organic but very often they are discouraged by problems in the vineyard. I get emails asking how we control Black Rot, Phomopsis and Downy Mildew: the scourges of East Coast viticulture. Today I am in Lancaster Pennsylvania addressing 80 wine growers at Mark Chien’s “Sustainable and Organic Vineyard Best Practices for Eastern Vineyards” conference. Mark is the Penn State extension agent for the viticulture department and quite an enthusiast of growing quality wine grapes on the East Coast. Mark was expecting about 30 growers to attend but the number has remarkably grown to over 80. I was in good company as one of my partner speakers was Glenn McGourdy, the Mendocino extension agent from University of California and a board member of Demeter. My presentation was on the slow conversion of our farm to organics while Glenn introduced the basics of Biodynamics. It was an incredibly successful conference, inspiring the budding Pennsylvania wine industry to continue in the quest for sustainable wine growing.

May 28, 2010

I came back home today to a message that read “Lucas Snodgrass, Snodgrass Farms in Missouri wants to talk to you about organic farming” I love messages like this. It turns out Lucas is growing vinifera grapes organically on his farm and grazing sheep….and has some disease control issues on the vines. The sheep only graze amongst the vines from late fall to early spring but the option of using copper as control for anthracnose, a leaf and fruit fungal disease prevalent in Missouri is not really the best option due to the sheep’s low tolerance of copper. After some quick reading it looks like organic potassium bicarbonate will work as an eradicant. If any growers are grazing sheep and there is copper applications in the mix, Lucas would probably appreciate your comments. I was talking to him while stirring the BD prep of horn silica that Carlos was applying to our vines. When I mentioned what I was doing Lucas said that half the farmers he spoke to thought highly of Biodynamics and the other half thought it was a bunch of hocus pocus.
And on went a discussion…