Lodi Vineyards Transition to biodynamic practices

Vino Farms winemaker Chris Storm overlooking the Bench Vermentino vineyard in
transition to become Lodi’s first biodynamic certified vineyard. Photo: Ted Rieger

Over the past three years, Vino Farms, Inc. based in Lodi, Calif., Has converted selected vineyards to Biodynamic â„¢ (BD) agricultural practices. Pending approval of its certification application, which is expected to be submitted to Demeter USA before the end of 2021, Vino Farms will have nearly 40 acres of vineyard certified to BD standards. It would be the first wine-growing area in the Lodi Wine-growing Zone of America (AVA) to achieve such certification, in an area where vineyards are more generally managed under Lodi’s rules for sustainable viticulture or using conventional farming practices.

With offices in Lodi and Healdsburg, Vino Farms is a multigenerational farm owned and operated by the Ledbetter family since the 1970s. The company manages or owns nearly 16,000 acres of vineyards in California including 5,300 acres in the region of California. Lodi. Vino Farms vice president and partner Craig Ledbetter said the switch to biodynamics came after meeting Ridgely Evers, owner / co-founder of DaVero Farms & Winery in Healdsburg. DaVero Farms specializes in wines made from Italian grape varieties, currently produced under the Avivo and DaVero labels. Evers is a big believer in comic book practices, with its Sonoma County vineyards certified by Demeter USA since 2012. Evers had previously purchased Vermentino produced by another Lodi grower, Schatz Family Farms, until the leased vineyard producing these grapes are no longer available.

Ledbetter said a partnership has been developed with Evers, which wants to increase case production and eventually produce a nationally distributed brand of Italian varietal wines from BD vineyards. Other smaller buyers are also interested in the available production of Vino Farms.

Ledbetter observed: “I don’t see biodynamics taking over our business, but we are ready to supply grapes produced this way to the right buyers at the right price. He added, “We were one of the first to adopt the practices of the Lodi Rules program and the majority of our wineries will continue to be certified under the Lodi Rules. We are dedicated to the farming practices that we believe are best for the environment, our business and our people. “

Vineyards in transition for certification

Vino Farms winemaker Chris Storm and winery manager Mike Harder oversaw the vineyard transition process. Storm said the focus has been on vineyards producing Italian varieties seen to be well suited to Lodi’s climate, with the ability to produce high quality wines.

The transitional acreage includes 33 acres of the white variety Vermentino, grown in two blocks known as “The Bench Vineyard” within Vino Farms’ “Grand Vin Lands” property which totals 221 acres. Grand Vin Lands includes a 22-acre riparian restoration project undertaken by Vino Farms from 2007 along the Mokelumne River to remove invasive non-native plants such as the “tree of paradise” and replant the riverside with native species such as poplar and oaks. This project, funded in part by a grant from the US Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), involved planting a hedge with native plants to provide habitat for wildlife and beneficial insects.

Bench Vermentino is managed no-till and planted with permanent cover crops comprising a blend of ryegrass, fescue and brome grasses, and 2 percent wildflowers. Storm said, “We have planted a diverse mix of plant species with cover crops and native riparian and hedge plants, which provide year round bloom to maintain habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects.” He added, “I think all of this contributes to the overall ecology of the vineyard, as we tend not to have bad pest outbreaks or mold issues, and that supports BD management practices.”

With BD’s practices, only organic pesticides are allowed, but the focus is on beneficial predatory insects. Storm said beneficial green lacewing has been released into the vineyard to control leafhoppers.

The upper block of Bench Vineyard, planted in 2014 with 039-16 and RS-3 rootstocks on well-drained sandy soils is a drier site and tends to produce more mature grapes and yields in the range of 8 to 9 tons per acre (TPA). The lower block, planted in 2012 on 5BB rootstocks, tends to produce grapes with a crispier “more Sauvignon Blanc character”, Storm said, and higher yields in the 10-12 TPA range. This lower block closer to the river is in the floodplain and can be inundated in years of heavy rainfall. It generally requires less irrigation due to a naturally higher water table.

Weed control and cover crop management incorporate the use of sheep from a local grazing service provider at the start of the year before bud break and for post-harvest clean-up. This provides a component of BD management to include animals in the overall operation. In season, weed control under the vines is carried out as needed with row weeding tools.

Another vineyard that should be BD certified is 6 Acres of Sangiovese in River’s Edge Vineyard at Vino Farm. This is an older vineyard planted in 1995 on 101-14 rootstocks. It was certified under the Lodi Rules Sustainable Program before and during the transition to BD practices. According to Storm, “This vineyard has always been productive and relatively easy to grow.”

As Storm observed, “Managing BD involves using less herbicides and pesticides, and using more compost and permanent cover crops without tillage. These practices force us to do these things and be more comfortable with them, and hopefully that leads us to incorporate better practices that work in other wineries that we manage. ”All of the wineries are developed for mechanical harvest, although some sections are harvested by hand for wineries who want lower tonnages.

Wines produced and future projects

The winery’s primary customer for the transitional acreage to date is DaVero Farms and Winery. Most of the production of Vermentino and Sangiovese has been bottled under the Avivo label at a price of around $ 18 / bottle. However, a recently released DaVero 2020 Favorita Vermentino label produced from The Bench Vineyard and labeled as a designated vineyard wine from “Ledbetter Family Vineyards” is priced at $ 35 / bottle.

Vino Farms plans to move additional acreage to appropriate locations to help DaVero grow its brands. Up to 18 acres of Syrah at The Bench Vineyard will be grafted to Vermentino for the transition. At another Borden Ranch AVA vineyard in northern Lodi AVA, there are plans to graft 17 acres from Petite Sirah to Sangiovese for the transition.

Certification and biodynamic practices

Vino Farms’ certification application will be assessed by Demeter USA, based in Philomath, Oregon, the official BD certification organization for farms in North America since 1985. Vino Farms staff have been in contact with Demeter staff USA throughout the transition process and incorporated the suggested changes to adapt practices as needed. Evers also provided advice.

As stated on its website: “Demeter USA is the sole certifier for farms and biodynamic products in America. While all organic requirements for certification under the national organic program are required for biodynamic certification, the Demeter standard is much more extensive, with more stringent requirements. around imported fertility, an increased focus on on-farm solutions for disease, pest and weed control, and in-depth specifications for water conservation and biodiversity. “Biodynamic” and “Demeter” are both registered trademark terms.

Comic book farming concepts date back to the 1920s, drawn from the teachings of scientist and philosopher Dr Rudolph Steiner during a series of lectures he gave to European farmers. With an emphasis on composting, fertility and the use of natural products, BD practices include the use of a series of specific preparations of natural products.

Vino Farms purchases all required preparations from the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics, based in Floyd, Virginia, a national producer and distributor of BD formulas since 1985. The nine preparations include three field spray preparations – horn manure, silica of horn, and horsetail grass; and six different compost mixes – yarrow, chamomile, nettle, oak bark, dandelion and valerian.

Over 70 US wineries and / or wineries are certified by Demeter USA, most of them in California, Oregon and Washington. Notable California certified vineyards and wineries include Bonterra Vineyards and Frey Vineyards in Mendocino County, Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma County, Raymond Vineyard and Cellar in Napa County, and Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles.

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