Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine


A Long Day’s Journey Into Harvest

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

August 21, 2010

Art and Intuition

I rode my bike into the vineyard today to spend some time just looking at the vines and trying to discern if two of the drier blocks needed irrigation. All-week thundershowers have been predicted, but only blue skies and 90 degree temperatures have been the result. The same thundershowers are predicted for the next three days, but I am not counting on it at this point. Since July 21 we have only gotten one-tenth of an inch.

As I ride up the path into the middle of the vines I thought about a story Butch Rowehl told me some years back. Butch was the last person to farm this land before me and he planted corn and rye for grain. In 2002 David and I had planted about half the vineyard and Butch still farmed the other half. That spring he had planned on letting the cover crop of winter rye continue to grow into a harvestable crop. On the day he plowed a small one acre piece for us that was to be planted with Cabernet Franc he ended up plowing the entire field of his rye under too. When I asked him about it he looked down and smiled to himself and said “Barbara, I got in the tractor and when my plow started to turn the soil, it turned better than it had in years so I couldn’t stop myself. It was the best spring plowing I can ever remember having” He planted the corn instead and that was that. That was the moment I understood the art and intuition of farming.

So, as I rode my bike up into the vineyard I thought about Butch and knew that my decision would be based more on smaller signals from the vines, the soil, the sound of the crickets, the way the heat hit my face. I had to listen to the vines, not calculate the odds.

September 1, 2010

Question 1: Why is it that the Organic Trial in Chardonnay at a local experimental vineyard did not work? Why can’t 25 vines be managed organically in a 2.5 acre vineyard where agricultural chemical experiments are taking place simultaneously on the surrounding vines? Why did the 25 vines fail in the 2.5 acre vineyard situated on a 68 acre farm where even more agricultural chemical experiments are taking place on other crops?

Perhaps I just answer the question by simply asking it?

Question 2: 10 years ago I was told it was impossible to successfully farm wine organically here on the North Fork. Now it is said “well, I guess you can do it on 20 acres.”

If we can do it on 20 acres why can’t it be done on 25 vines?

This is not a criticism of the experimental vineyard and the people who farm it. The trials that are conducted here are valuable to all of us growing wine. The people who conduct the trials are well educated in agriculture and plant science and selflessly come to the aid of all of us growing wine here. The Organic Trial simply raised questions that perhaps were not intended upon the outset of the experiment…and they are very important questions indeed.

Question 3: Are we looking at a situation where the farmer must treat her farm as a whole and allow for instinctive agricultural wisdom to play a role? Could it be that successfully farming organically is not just simply substituting an organic input for a non-organic input?

Is it highly improbable to be able to convert land to a more holistic method of farming by simply going “cold turkey” instead of slowly transitioning the land over?

Rudolph Steiner gave us solace in these questions by his kind words:

“A farmer who senses the existence of a certain inevitable relationship between human beings and the kingdoms of nature – the interaction and interpenetration of the forces of the earth, sun, stars, elementals and all other nature spirits – and who sees these interactions and interpenetrations giving rise to the mineral, plant, animal and human kingdoms, feels a host of questions assailing him at every turn in his daily work to which his current knowledge can supply no answers, and which therefore greatly trouble him as unresolved questions. He senses the fact of these forces and their interworking, yet knows nothing of the way they do so, nor of their essential nature.”

September 3, 2010

Today I looked at a picture I took of the vines back in June. Sometimes their beauty pulls me into the vineyard and I just need to go quietly and be there.
The spring sun was so gentle that day, the vines were reaching up to the sky and the tendrils were quietly twirling in the air.

Now it is September and it is raining torrentially thanks to the hurricane named Earl. The vines are strong and wise, yet still vulnerable…it seems like they are always vulnerable. I thought about going deep into the vineyard today to a favorite spot hoping to somehow warn of the approaching weather situation. But I decided not to go. They had to go through this alone.

Now I regret it, the rain is hard and the fruit is soft.

I wish the tender beauty of June that is shown in this picture was with me now in September.

September 4, 2010

2 inches of rain yesterday and a dry wind is blowing, drying everything. The fruit is unscathed. We made it.

September 10, 2010

The harvest is swirling about us and it seems like everyone is picking. But for me it is not time to pick. All of the fruit has an indication of high sugar levels because we are 2 to 3 weeks ahead of average harvest time. But if the fruit does not yet please me or David or Anthony on the palate, why harvest 2 to 3 weeks early…only to pick at average ripeness? The ascending moon* will commence on September 16 when the sap in the vines will again begin to rise, bringing nutrition to the berries.

That is when we will begin harvest.

*ascending moon: the moon has 4 cycles one of which is ascending and descending. The arc of the moon in the sky is higher during an ascending moon and lower during the descending moon. During the ascending moon the sap of plants rises and this is when I prefer to harvest. The sap, as a carrier of nutrients, will send nourishment to the fruit making for healthier fermentations and therefore better extraction, more fruit character, and optimal tannin structure in the wines.

September 13, 2010

Carlos and Gaudalupe just walked out to the vineyard to lower the deer fence. We are going to reseed the north block with alsike and sweet yellow clover today. I am envisioning the vineyard floor next June vibrantly blooming in yellow and white.