Zenith Vineyard, Sustainable Farming in Oregon's Willamette Valley
Sustainability speaks to the vision we have of our job as winegrowers. The fruit for outstanding wines can only come from beautiful origins. It is our commitment to respect the land, the vineyard, and the wines that come from our site as things of great beauty, to be carefully and lovingly tended. We are caretakers only. We are charged with delivering this parcel of land to the next generation with healthy soils, intact biology and a vineyard that has a brighter future ahead than even its greatness of the past. Everything we do, we try to do with the attitude of “we’re doing this forever, don’t cut corners, don’t make short-run decisions.”
My family lives on the farm and our extended family works here. Thus, we are highly motivated to keep Zenith Vineyard a beautiful, healthy place. Zenith Vineyard practices sustainable farming and is Live Certified. We strive to farm to organic standards, however we have not pursued an organic certification.
What are the specifics of our Sustainable Farming practices?
Weed Control – We never use herbicides in the vineyard, practicing in-row cultivation, hand hoeing and conservation tillage instead. We are going for ‘tilth” in the soil, and nuking weeds with chemicals seems to have a negative impact on the soil biology. Our vineyard might be a little more “weedy” than the next, but we bet the soil microbes are thanking us (if they could talk).
Insectides – We simply don’t put poison out on the land. Our rodent and burrowing animal control is a “Rodentator” that effectively and humanely dispatches gophers, voles and other burrowing critters with an explosive charge of propane and oxygen.
Fungicides – We use three organic substances to control powdery mildew in the vineyard. We use elemental micronized sulfur, stylet oil and food-grade monopotassium phosphate. Starting just before bud break we spray every 10 – 14 days with sulfur or stylet oil to prevent powdery mildew infections. We alternate two sprays of sulfur, followed by two of stylet oil to make certain mildew spores do not develop resistance to these chemicals. Late in the season we spray with food-grade monopotassium phosphate, a mildew eradicant which will kill any active spores.
Botrytis Control – Botrytis is a mildew infection that may start early in the season, but only make itself known in the form of furry rotting fruit at the time of harvest. Our major departure from organic farming is that we’ve not found an effective organic botryticide that will safely protect the crop from botrytis. So we use botryticide sprays such as Pristine, Scala and Elevate, usually one spray at bloom and one at verasion. In our view, these chemicals are quite safe and are certainly preferable to spraying copper sulfate – an “organic,” but toxic heavy metal which is the tool many BD or organic farmers will turn to. To risk rotten fruit is not an option.
Erosion Control – Wherever possible we leave a permanent cover crop in place in our vineyard rows to minimize wind erosion in the summer and rain erosion in the winter. We always plant cover crop in the fall to retain any areas of tillage.
Fertilization – Zenith Vineyard strives to improve the soil tilth of our vineyard floor with annual applications of composted organic cow manure. We do use liquid fertilizers on baby (non-bearing) plants to help them get established, but we apply the fertilizer through our drip irrigation system to target the nitrogen and micro-nutrients to the plant in extremely exact quantities. We use “green manure,” cover crop that can be planted in the fall and sprout various legumes in the spring that fix nitrogen and improve our soils when we till the cover crop under.
Better living through Compost. We are all about feeding the soil so the soil can feed the vine. To that end, we have an impressive 2,000 square foot composting facility which we built in 2009. We compost cow manure, horse manure, grape pommace, grape stems and other farm and houshold waste to make tons of rich black compost for the vineyard. This is applied to vines based on their need as determined by arial photography.
Winery Design – We are striving to make an efficient and ecologically sound winery. Our barrel cellar is underground to minimize the need for refrigeration. Most of our glass is oriented east so that we enjoy good light, but we don’t load the building with the heat of the afternoon sun. Appliances, pumps and heating are all designed to very high-efficiency standards. We received a substantial Oregon Energy Trust award in recognition of our energy efficient equipment.