Words from the Winemaker: Going Organic in the Vineyards
After farming our vineyards organically for the last six years, we’ve decided to formalize this process by gaining organic certification from California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-accredited organic certifying agency. We’ve been certified as sustainable for years now, but the organic certification is dramatically more stringent and better aligns with our values and commitment to the land.
What is the difference between “organic” and “sustainable” farming? For starters, anyone can claim to be sustainable, but to be organic one must follow very clear rules and be certified. Sustainability is a concept and an aspiration encompassing such things as competitive wages, ethical treatment of employees, water management, and the creation of wildlife corridors.
As with organic certification, there are agencies that certify vineyards and wineries as sustainable when they demonstrate yearly improvement in their practices. That’s admirable, but showing that you’re doing better than last year doesn’t mean that you’re doing the right thing. One can be sustainable and still spray Roundup, a weed killer that has been scrutinized for its perceived link to cancer, for example.
The organic certification proscribes the use of artificial pesticides, fertilizers, and GMOs, among other things. It means that even in the face of an outbreak of powdery mildew, we cannot resort—as sustainable vineyards can—to conventional fungicides that, while effective, often lead to resistance and ineffectiveness.
Adelaida shares many of the laudable goals of sustainability, such as limiting water use, care for employees, native habitats and wildlife, and reduction of energy. We’ve been practicing sustainability in one form or another for years.
For example, more than half of Adelaida’s land is not cultivated. It’s simply left for animals to traverse. We are stingy with our water use: The walnuts that we grow are certified organic and have never been irrigated, nor has the Zinfandel. We employ evapotranspiration sensors across the vineyards to determine when and if the plants truly need water, and at the winery over 90% of our energy needs are met by solar power. Finally, our wages are competitive and health care is offered.
The organic certification process itself takes some time and requires that we demonstrate that we’ve farmed the land organically for at least three years. This is a small price to pay to show our customers the seriousness with which we view the health of our vineyards and the people working here.