Biodynamic Fake News

Burying cow horns to make Biodynamic Preparation 500 at Troon Vineyard

It’s not their fault, but you see it every week. Fine wine writers printing misconceptions and flat-out wrong information on biodynamics - yes, fake news.

It’s not their fault, it’s ours. Those of us who farm wine grapes biodynamically are not doing a good job of getting out the real story. That could be because the biodynamic movement is not a monolith, but a complicated web with divergent branches and diverse self-interests. That makes for a muddled message and creates an information issue biodynamic winegrowers have to confront. While there may be divergent opinions and methods within the biodynamic community, all share a common final goal.

Here are some random recent examples of the media muffing biodynamics. The authors and publications are irrelevant as inaccuracies like these are more the rule than the exception.

”And if you’ve heard of one thing to do with biodynamics, it is probably that cow horns filled with fermented cow manure are buried in the vineyards to encourage soil fertility." "Cow horns are buried throughout the vineyard."

Biodynamic winegrowers do not bury cow horns “filled with fermented cow manure…throughout the vineyard”. In this case, the reference is to the production of Biodynamic Preparation 500. To prepare BD 500, you place very fresh, raw organic cow manure in cow horns in the fall and bury them in a single pit in a specially selected site. There they ferment over the winter and the horns are dug up in the spring. The finished BD 500 is mixed with water and applied to your soils. It assists with the formation of humus, increases available phosphorous, soil mycorrhiza and the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil. The goal of BP 500 is to regenerate the natural microbiome and raise the quality of your soils.

“Naturally occurring cycles like moon phases dictate when to harvest ”

Moon phases do not “dictate” when we harvest at Troon Vineyard. That the phases of the moon have an impact on the natural rhythms of agriculture is a time-tested (and scientifically proven) reality. Following the ascending and descending cycles of the moon is something any natural farmer tries to do. However, the operative word here is “tries”. It’s one thing to follow these cycles in your home garden, but it’s another thing on a commercial farm. We certainly try to follow the lunar cycles, but often the realities of Mother Nature means you have to move forward. When you have to prune fifty acres of vines by a specific date, and you can’t prune when it’s raining (due to disease pressure), you can only do your best to hit the right days. When the fruit is ready to harvest, but it’s not a fruit day, but it’s going to rain three inches tomorrow your choice is easy - you pick. Any positive attributes you gain by picking on a certain day will be more than negated by the next day’s rain. We try to follow these lunar cycles whenever possible as we are seeking every advantage, no matter how small, to add that extra bit of nuance and life to our wines. The biodynamic calendar identifies ideal days for certain types of vineyard work. You try to prune on fruit days and cultivate on root days. As our goal is exceptional fruit quality, doing work on certain days is a way to fine-tune the quality of our fruit. However, we do not seek viticultural management from the man-in-the-moon, we just want a little advice, and will make our decisions based on what experience, common sense and science have taught us.

”Special concoctions of herbs, minerals, and manure may also be planted in the soil to aid fertilization.”

“Herbs, minerals and manure” are not planted in the vineyard soil to help fertilization. A range of plants (BP 502 to 507 - yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian) are fermented then added to compost piles to aid in developing the right bacterial and fungal balance in the finished compost, which will then be applied to the vineyard - back to the microbiome again. It is important to note that while compost contains some beneficial minerals, it is not fertilizer. The point of biodynamic compost is to build the humus and microbiome of your soil. A healthy plant in healthy soil does not require additional chemical fertilization. This is the cornerstone of biodynamic practice. When we need to fertilize due to soils depleted by years of conventional agriculture or when growing a perennial crop like grapes, we add natural fertilizers like fish emulsion (think SNL’s Bass-O-Matic) and kelp. No biodynamic farmer would add raw manure to their field without fully composting it first. Besides the obvious health concerns, raw manure cannot do the job of properly made compost. Our compost is made from organic cow manure from our next door neighbor Noble Dairy, organic hay and our own pomace (grape skins and stems after pressing during harvest), which is then carefully composted for the better part of a year before being applied to our vineyard.

"there’s even a calendar for optimal wine-tasting days”

Then there is the currently fashionable calendar for “optimal wine-tasting days” - there’s even an app for that. However, the flower, leaf, root and fruit day thing is not part of Rudolf Steiner’s original agricultural lectures and was only added to the biodynamic culture in the 1950s by Maria Thun in Germany. Her concepts were built on research in her garden and, while her results have never been supported by independent research, there is strong anecdotal evidence that something is indeed at work here when it comes to the inner workings of plants. The base of these theories is that the moon’s gravity has an influence on the liquid in plants and soils much the same as it does on tides. A reasonable assumption. To me it is a stretch, at best, to apply this same theory to a glass of wine on your kitchen table. However, those same influences could affect the tasters themselves. Whatever the case, these concepts are a not a required part of Demeter Biodynamic certification, which is a statement in itself. Optimal wine-tasting days may have sprung from biodynamic ideas, but they are not part of biodynamic practice. However, it can be a useful excuse in a pinch if a customer is less than happy with your wine.

Biodynamics is a work-in-progress. When Rudolf Steiner gave his lectures in the early 1920s in Germany, he was living in a world in chaos, the same chaos that gave birth to the Nazis. World War I had just devastated Europe and, on the farm, the introduction of chemical, industrial agriculture terrified many people. It is in this climate that Steiner gave his agricultural lectures at the request of a group of concerned farmers. What is called biodynamics today was only outlined by Steiner himself in his lectures, and he died just a few years after giving them. Many of the practices considered essential practices of biodynamics today were layered on by those that came after him. While Steiner gave voice to the fears of that era, what we call biodynamics today is more the work of a movement than one person.

That work continues today and the growing number of winegrowers adopting biodynamics is having a tremendous impact on the movement’s future. Each year more is learned about biodynamics, and now modern agricultural science is moving towards the fundamental farming practices that define biodynamics - that the key to a healthy plant is healthy soils. Everything today is about the microbiome - in our guts and our soils. Biodynamic farmers have been giving their soils probiotics for decades. Science is just now catching up to us.

From what I have been able to read and understand (not always the same thing when reading Steiner) in Steiner’s books, he saw his concepts as only a beginning of an individual’s quest for spiritual and intellectual growth. While he did not approve of alcohol, I still think he would approve as winegrowers the world over push the pursuit of biodynamics forward. Today winegrowers are at at the forefront of connecting science and biodynamics. The winegrowing community is creating what I call practical biodynamics. Voodoo vintners we are not.

Who is to say what biodynamics will mean fifty years in the future? The only sure thing is that it will be as different from today’s practices as we are from the first practitioners in the 1920s. It will always be a work-in-progress as we will never understand everything. Mother Nature will always keep some secrets to herself.

Now that I think about it, it’s no wonder that writers struggle with understanding the practice of biodynamics, so do we. Agricultural knowledge is always evolving. There is much we don't know and much we will never know. Bringing science and biodynamics together will be the next chapter.

That’s a story worth telling well.

Some recommended reading on biodynamic winegrowing

Biodynamic Wine by Monty Waldin - certainly the most complete book available on the topic

Voodoo Vintners (in spite of the title) by Katherine Cole

Biodynamic Fake News

Burying cow horns to make Biodynamic Preparation 500 at Troon Vineyard

It’s not their fault, but you see it every week. Fine wine writers printing misconceptions and flat-out wrong information on biodynamics - yes, fake news.

It’s not their fault, it’s ours. Those of us who farm wine grapes biodynamically are not doing a good job of getting out the real story. That could be because the biodynamic movement is not a monolith, but a complicated web with divergent branches and diverse self-interests. That makes for a muddled message and creates an information issue biodynamic winegrowers have to confront. While there may be divergent opinions and methods within the biodynamic community, all share a common final goal.

Here are some random recent examples of the media muffing biodynamics. The authors and publications are irrelevant as inaccuracies like these are more the rule than the exception.

”And if you’ve heard of one thing to do with biodynamics, it is probably that cow horns filled with fermented cow manure are buried in the vineyards to encourage soil fertility." "Cow horns are buried throughout the vineyard."

Biodynamic winegrowers do not bury cow horns “filled with fermented cow manure…throughout the vineyard”. In this case, the reference is to the production of Biodynamic Preparation 500. To prepare BD 500, you place very fresh, raw organic cow manure in cow horns in the fall and bury them in a single pit in a specially selected site. There they ferment over the winter and the horns are dug up in the spring. The finished BD 500 is mixed with water and applied to your soils. It assists with the formation of humus, increases available phosphorous, soil mycorrhiza and the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil. The goal of BP 500 is to regenerate the natural microbiome and raise the quality of your soils.

“Naturally occurring cycles like moon phases dictate when to harvest ”

Moon phases do not “dictate” when we harvest at Troon Vineyard. That the phases of the moon have an impact on the natural rhythms of agriculture is a time-tested (and scientifically proven) reality. Following the ascending and descending cycles of the moon is something any natural farmer tries to do. However, the operative word here is “tries”. It’s one thing to follow these cycles in your home garden, but it’s another thing on a commercial farm. We certainly try to follow the lunar cycles, but often the realities of Mother Nature means you have to move forward. When you have to prune fifty acres of vines by a specific date, and you can’t prune when it’s raining (due to disease pressure), you can only do your best to hit the right days. When the fruit is ready to harvest, but it’s not a fruit day, but it’s going to rain three inches tomorrow your choice is easy - you pick. Any positive attributes you gain by picking on a certain day will be more than negated by the next day’s rain. We try to follow these lunar cycles whenever possible as we are seeking every advantage, no matter how small, to add that extra bit of nuance and life to our wines. The biodynamic calendar identifies ideal days for certain types of vineyard work. You try to prune on fruit days and cultivate on root days. As our goal is exceptional fruit quality, doing work on certain days is a way to fine-tune the quality of our fruit. However, we do not seek viticultural management from the man-in-the-moon, we just want a little advice, and will make our decisions based on what experience, common sense and science have taught us.

”Special concoctions of herbs, minerals, and manure may also be planted in the soil to aid fertilization.”

“Herbs, minerals and manure” are not planted in the vineyard soil to help fertilization. A range of plants (BP 502 to 507 - yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian) are fermented then added to compost piles to aid in developing the right bacterial and fungal balance in the finished compost, which will then be applied to the vineyard - back to the microbiome again. It is important to note that while compost contains some beneficial minerals, it is not fertilizer. The point of biodynamic compost is to build the humus and microbiome of your soil. A healthy plant in healthy soil does not require additional chemical fertilization. This is the cornerstone of biodynamic practice. When we need to fertilize due to soils depleted by years of conventional agriculture or when growing a perennial crop like grapes, we add natural fertilizers like fish emulsion (think SNL’s Bass-O-Matic) and kelp. No biodynamic farmer would add raw manure to their field without fully composting it first. Besides the obvious health concerns, raw manure cannot do the job of properly made compost. Our compost is made from organic cow manure from our next door neighbor Noble Dairy, organic hay and our own pomace (grape skins and stems after pressing during harvest), which is then carefully composted for the better part of a year before being applied to our vineyard.

"there’s even a calendar for optimal wine-tasting days”

Then there is the currently fashionable calendar for “optimal wine-tasting days” - there’s even an app for that. However, the flower, leaf, root and fruit day thing is not part of Rudolf Steiner’s original agricultural lectures and was only added to the biodynamic culture in the 1950s by Maria Thun in Germany. Her concepts were built on research in her garden and, while her results have never been supported by independent research, there is strong anecdotal evidence that something is indeed at work here when it comes to the inner workings of plants. The base of these theories is that the moon’s gravity has an influence on the liquid in plants and soils much the same as it does on tides. A reasonable assumption. To me it is a stretch, at best, to apply this same theory to a glass of wine on your kitchen table. Whatever the case, these concepts are a not required part of Demeter Biodynamic certification, which is a statement in itself. Optimal wine-tasting days may have sprung from biodynamic ideas, but they are not part of biodynamic practice. However, it can be a useful excuse in a pinch if a customer is less than happy with your wine.

Biodynamics is a work-in-progress. When Rudolf Steiner gave his lectures in the early 1920s in Germany, he was living in a world in chaos, the same chaos that gave birth to the Nazis. World War I had just devastated Europe and, on the farm, the introduction of chemical, industrial agriculture terrified many people. It is in this climate that Steiner gave his agricultural lectures at the request of a group of concerned farmers. What is called biodynamics today was only outlined by Steiner himself in his lectures, and he died just a few years after giving them. Many of the practices considered essential practices of biodynamics today were layered on by those that came after him. While Steiner gave voice to the fears of that era, what we call biodynamics today is more the work of a movement than one person.

That work continues today and the growing number of winegrowers adopting biodynamics is having a tremendous impact on the movement’s future. Each year more is learned about biodynamics, and now modern agricultural science is moving towards the fundamental farming practices that define biodynamics - that the key to a healthy plant is healthy soils. Everything today is about the microbiome - in our guts and our soils. Biodynamic farmers have been giving their soils probiotics for decades. Science is just now catching up to us.

From what I have been able to read and understand (not always the same thing when reading Steiner) in Steiner’s books, he saw his concepts as only a beginning of an individual’s quest for spiritual and intellectual growth. While he did not approve of alcohol, I still think he would approve as winegrowers the world over push the pursuit of biodynamics forward. Today winegrowers are at at the forefront of connecting science and biodynamics. The winegrowing community is creating what I call practical biodynamics. Voodoo vintners we are not.

Who is to say what biodynamics will mean fifty years in the future? The only sure thing is that it will be as different from today’s practices as we are from the first practitioners in the 1920s. It will always be a work-in-progress as we will never understand everything. Mother Nature will always keep some secrets to herself.

Now that I think about it, it’s no wonder that writers struggle with understanding the practice of biodynamics, so do we. Agricultural knowledge is always evolving. There is much we don't know and much we will never know. Bringing science and biodynamics together will be the next chapter.

That’s a story worth telling well.

Some recommended reading on biodynamic winegrowing

Biodynamic Wine by Monty Waldin - certainly the most complete book available on the topic

Voodoo Vintners (in spite of the title) by Katherine Cole

Investing in a Stranger’s Future

Agriculture is cyclical. Season flows into season. Vines flower then a hundred or so days later you harvest their fruit. Animals and farmers live their life cycles together on land that sustains them both. Nature wraps us in the cycle of life.

In January we begin to think of pruning and worrying about frost. What happened last vintage is behind us and only the potential of the next fills your minds. After all, the wines in the cellar are committed to their course and it is only our role to shepherd them home. That vintage is over.

There are few things other than agriculture where you so firmly press the reset button on the first of January. Of course, we build on the experience bestowed upon us by Mother Nature each year, but that’s all nuance compared to the cycles of Nature, which make all the most important choices.

We are facing a lot of new hurdles at Troon Vineyard as we begin a ranch-wide replant designed both to correct the viticultural sins of the past and to proactively move forward by selecting better varieties and then planting them in better sites. To move forward you must be willing to break ties to the past. At Troon we’ve decided to race towards the future.

New plantings will be decidedly focused on the varieties made famous by the Rhône Valley, Languedoc and Provence. These vines have proven their proclivity for our Kubli Bench terroir. Now it’s our turn to take what we’ve learned and focus on creating some truly special wines - some of which may be a decade or more away.

To some it may seem odd to embark on a voyage knowing you will not arrive at the destination, but that is farming and winegrowing. There is never any end to the cycle of seasons and you are only part of a chain that passes the baton ever-forward in a never-ending relay race. Nothing fires my passion more than knowing that I can make a perfect baton pass to the next generation. If they can make great wines from the vines we plant, I will have done more than my job. That is my goal.

For the time remaining to me, I will become a small part of the life of this vineyard and hope that I am still around to taste at least the potential of the vines we plant over the next years. We each get our vintages and it is our responsibility to enjoy every one and to hope that our work today will be rewarded with wines we will never taste made by people we never knew. They may not know us, but the vines we plant today will speak for us in the wines they make.

Every glass of wine we drink from an old vineyard carries the voices of those that planted and worked it over the decades. Listen to us, we deserve your attention.

Investing in a Stranger’s Future

Agriculture is cyclical. Season flows into season. Vines flower then a hundred or so days later you harvest their fruit. Animals and farmers live their life cycles together on land that sustains them both. Nature wraps us in the cycle of life.

In January we begin to think of pruning and worrying about frost. What happened last vintage is behind us and only the potential of the next fills your minds. After all, the wines in the cellar are committed to their course and it is only our role to shepherd them home. That vintage is over.

There are few things other than agriculture where you so firmly press the reset button on the first of January. Of course, we build on the experience bestowed upon us by Mother Nature each year, but that’s all nuance compared to the cycles of Nature, which make all the most important choices.

We are facing a lot of new hurdles at Troon Vineyard as we begin a ranch-wide replant designed both to correct the viticultural sins of the past and to proactively move forward by selecting better varieties and then planting them in better sites. To move forward you must be willing to break ties to the past. At Troon we’ve decided to race towards the future.

New plantings will be decidedly focused on the varieties made famous by the Rhône Valley, Languedoc and Provence. These vines have proven their proclivity for our Kubli Bench terroir. Now it’s our turn to take what we’ve learned and focus on creating some truly special wines - some of which may be a decade or more away.

To some it may seem odd to embark on a voyage knowing you will not arrive at the destination, but that is farming and winegrowing. There is never any end to the cycle of seasons and you are only part of a chain that passes the baton ever-forward in a never-ending relay race. Nothing fires my passion more than knowing that I can make a perfect baton pass to the next generation. If they can make great wines from the vines we plant, I will have done more than my job. That is my goal.

For the time remaining to me, I will become a small part of the life of this vineyard and hope that I am still around to taste at least the potential of the vines we plant over the next years. We each get our vintages and it is our responsibility to enjoy every one and to hope that our work today will be rewarded with wines we will never taste made by people we never knew. They may not know us, but the vines we plant today will speak for us in the wines they make.

Every glass of wine we drink from an old vineyard carries the voices of those that planted and worked it over the decades. Listen to us, we deserve your attention.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album – Troon Vineyard in Oregon’s Applegate Valley

Mother Nature was very kind to us in 2018. Rain and cool weather are things you expect during harvest in Oregon, but not this year! All during harvest we were given warm, dry weather under beautiful blue skies. This perfect weather meant we could harvest each variety at the ideal moment. There was no pressure from the weather so our pace was almost leisurely compared to a normal vintage. It was a harvest to remember as will the wines!

Picking tinta roriz, this is our last vintage of this variety as these vines will be pulled and replanted next year.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Picking starts at dawn with the vines still in the shade of the Siskiyou Mountains, which are already brightly illuminated.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Some picure-perfect vermentino.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Banele and Jesus picking malbec as dawn breaks.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

The Applegate Valley during harvest.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

In a biodynamic vineyard, the leaves are fully turned color and falling off when it is time to pick the fruit. This is the natural cycle of a vine.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Vineyard manager Adan Cortes bundled up against the morning cold as he harvests vermentino.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Associate winemaker and biodynamic team leader Nate Wall fills cow horns to make biodynamic preparation 500. They will buried until next spring. Making BD 500 is something you do during harvest in the fall.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Banele, our harvest intern from South Africa, places the filled cow horns in pit to be buried until next spring. The BD 500 they will produce will be sprayed on our vineyards.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Grape pomace, fresh from the press, is added to our compost pile. All the leftovers from harvest are added to our biodynamic compost piles and returned to the vineyard.

Vineyard Venom

When I first arrived at Troon Vineyard, the then vineyard manager reviewed the previous year’s vineyard applications. Other than the usual nastiness like Roundup, one product immediately grabbed my eye - Venom. I was not familiar with this product, but, with a name like Venom, I did not expect anything good. 

A trip to the manufacture’s website confirmed my worst fears. Venom proved just as nasty as it sounded, “This compound is toxic to honey bees. The persistence of residues and potential residual toxicity of dinotefuran in nectar and pollen suggest the possibility of chronic risk to honey bee larvae and the eventual instability of the hive.” for the complete manufacturer information sheet click here

That’s right, it kills honey bees. All of them.

There was no more Venom or anything like that used at Troon from then on. Today, now that we have converted to biodynamic agriculture, we use products with much gentler names and impacts on the environment. For example, now we use products with names like Regalia, an organically certified biofungicide that works by strengthening the plants own defenses rather than poisoning anything and everything whether good or bad. It does not seem to be a coincidence that conventional chemical agricultural products often have scary names as, indeed, they are dangerous to everything - people as well as bees.

Products like Regalia not only sound less threatening but are less dangerous in the long-term as conventional chemicals tend to create fungicide-resistant strains that then require even more powerful chemical applications to combat them. Organic products like Regalia are based on bacteria that are already in the environment, which trigger the plant's natural defense system. In other words, we are only encouraging the plant to does what it does naturally

“When treated with Regalia, a plant’s natural defense systems are activated to protect against attacking diseases. Research shows that plants treated with Regalia produce and accumulate elevated levels of specialized proteins and other compounds known to inhibit fungal and bacterial diseases. Regalia induces a plant to produce phytoalexins, cell strengtheners, antioxidants, phenolics and PR proteins, which are all known inhibitors of plant pathogens. Regalia provides synergistic properties between a plant’s natural ability to protect itself and the effectiveness of antifungal and antibacterial protection.“ Marrone Bio-Innovations

Humans consider themselves smarter than plants, but we’re not. When it comes to producing grapes, the vine understands more about producing beautiful ripe grapes than we’ll ever know. It is arrogant on our part to believe we can do better. That arrogance has led to the use of chemicals that destroy a vines natural ability to feed and defend itself and to weaker plants addicted to fertilizers and chemicals. A weak plant does not produce the kinds of grapes that produce great wines. The single most important thing for quality wine is a strong, healthy grapevine. Our job as winegrowers is to help the vine do its work, not to do its work for it. When it comes to growing grapes, we are the apprentice and the vine is the master craftsman. This is a good thing to remember in this era of cult wines and winemakers. It is the vine and the soil that create memorable wines, not people. People are quite capable of producing commercially successful beverage wine products, but only vines and vineyards can give you sublime, individual wines. In a well-farmed vineyard with healthy vines and good soils, the winemaker's role is more as a shepherd than artist or technician. If you are not humbled by nature you are not connected to it, don’t understand it and can’t transform that power into wines that are anything other than industrial.

Biodynamics finally clicks in your brain when you realize as a farmer you are not a general in charge of a battlefield, but just another cog in the gear that makes nature work. Arrogance and chemical interventions have led to disaster. Farmers who realize their place in nature produce better and healthier foods and wines. This is a mindset that can be achieved by farmers large and small. 

Now at Troon, instead of destroying honey bees we are building three aviaries with accompanying pollinator habitats. The bees deserve this respect as we are just two of the myriad of intertwined pieces that make a farm a whole. We owe them something for the past sins of our predecessors. It will be an honor to welcome them back home.

Turn, Turn, Turn

January at Troon in Oregon's Applegate Valley 

For everything, there is a season. There is a flow to the year that is defined by what is being harvested. Moments defined by what we eat and drink. As these seasonal treats start arriving at the farmers market, they mark your place in the year. Peas and asparagus in spring, summer brings peaches and tomatoes, fall brings squash and, for those of us who make wine, grapes. Each of them gives you a sense of time and place. 

The wines I drink dance across the calendar along with the foods I find at the market. Cold weather brings stews, risotto, pasta, root vegetables and bolder wines - Barolo, St. Joseph, Bandol, and Tannat appear on my table. The arrival of summer often brings vegetables and simple grills into staring roles and white wines - vermentino, roussanne, Sancerre, Muscadet, Soave along with wines of wildly varying shades of pink often become my wines of choice. For reds, pinot noir, Valpolicella, grenache and, most of all, Beaujolais  - all wines that love a light chill - bring perfect pleasure. 

Things that grow react to the season and wine is no exception. Obviously, drinking a Barolo on a hot day in August is not the same sin as insisting on buying tomatoes in January. Yet, I think the full pleasures of a Barolo are more likely to show themselves with Osso Bucco on a crisp fall evening than with a caprese on a hot summer afternoon.

Wine is food, and it is more enjoyable when served in the same way.  We are drawn to certain foods at different times of the year and should apply that same common sense to wines.

I’m always mystified when people tell me they don’t like white wine or they only like big reds - the wine world’s equivalent of picky eaters. To me wine is wine, and the color is decided by the food, the season and, of course, my mood. There is no arguing with taste, but I’ll argue those picky eaters and drinkers aren’t tasting at all. They’ve already made up their minds.

The more you pay attention to what you taste the more diversity of experience you crave. That terrifying question I’ve been asked many times, “If you could only drink one wine for the rest...” - is more nightmare than fantasy. The other question I’m often asked is, “what’s your favorite wine you make” or, perhaps even worse, “what’s the best wine you make” leave me speechless. They are questions without an answer. 

Each wine we make at Troon has its moment, its meal, its season. What’s my favorite wine? The one in my glass. 

Becoming One with Wine

Uploaded by Craig Camp on 2018-03-27.

The world feels somehow different today at Troon Vineyard. I guess you can’t reinvent a vineyard without reinventing yourself. Reinventing and reinvigorating people and a vineyard at the same time is about the simplest way I can explain our transition to biodynamic farming. Everything just feels more alive.

Over the last week what was all planning, items on a Trello board, started to become real. New equipment, new ways of thinking and a new spirit all converged at Troon Vineyard this week. The first step was just a simple piece of string

Twine ties in a block of our vermentino

After years of plastic ties in the vineyard, many of a particularly noxious green color, we have replaced them with hand-knotted pieces of twine. The contrast between the bilious green of the old ties and the warm, earth tones of the twine ties running down the rows tying the canes to the wires could not be more obvious or meaningful. A simple change that tells of significant changes to come, we are becoming entwined in nature.

A somewhat physically more prominent change was the arrival of our Clemens radius weeder or “weed knife”.  While a big financial investment, an efficient tool to control weeds is necessary if you are going to forgo chemicals like the seemingly ever-present Roundup. Many may debate about the evils of glyphosate, and all too many sustainable certifications allow it, but common sense tells us that chemicals like these are just not part of nature’s plan.  It’s hard to describe how well the Clemens does its job as it fluidly dances the blade around each vine almost in slow motion - we actually it is in slow motion as the tractor can only go two and a half miles an hour while doing this work.

Other new mechanical arrivals include the Clemens multi-clean undervine brush, which, as the name implies, literally whisks away suckers and weeds around the base of the vine. Then there is a tank-like Domries disc and a Domries tri-till cultivator. We now have the tools to do the job right.

Becoming One with Wine

Creating a vortex while stirring BD 500

Then there was the really good shit, literally, which arrived this week. Now living in Southern Oregon, that phrase tends to refer to other local agricultural products, in our case, it was actually shit. This was the famed BD 500, the cow manure aged in buried cow horns. For this first application we had to purchase some finished BD 500, but by next spring we’ll have buried and fermented our own. The finished preparation does not remind of the original state or aromatics of the raw materials as it looks and smells more like very rich potting soil. To prepare 500 for application requires stirring it a very particular way. Troon winemaker Steve Hall selected one of our oldest barrels (for the history of place it had experienced) then after adding the 500 to around forty gallons of water we begin the stirring process. Steve and I alternated during the hour long process. First you stir in one direction until you build a deep vortex then suddenly reverse direction going violently from order to disorder. You repeat this process over-and-over for the full hour. This was a uniquely satisfying  experience as you bond with the preparation that will become one with your soil. A very different experience than wearing haz-mat gear demanded by standard vineyard applications. Once prepared we poured the BD 500 into the sprayer and as the week came to a close our entire property had received this application. 

Just knowing that the first biodynamic preparation is in our soils gives me both a sense of peace and accomplishment. We are on an entirely new voyage with a new mission. Just as the vines are reborn each spring, this spring Troon Vineyard is reborn along with them. Soon the buds will break into a whole new world of winegrowing. 

Biodynamics will reinvigorate our soils and our vines, but it is also reinvigorating us. It is those combined energies that will be expressed in our wines. Wines full of energy are exciting wines and we could not be more excited about making them. Our desire to make special wines from what we know is a vineyard, a terroir, with exceptional potential is what started us on this voyage to begin with. 

We are at the starting line of a long struggle to achieve our goals. Now that we have taken our first steps we feel like a sprinter whose energy has just been released by the starting gun. 

The vines, the soil, the place, the wines and the people are all becoming one.

Becoming One with Wine

Alberto spraying BD 500 in a block of zinfandel

Natural Selection

Perfectly ripe vermentino at Troon Vineyard 

 

Vintages come and go and with each passing harvest your focus slowly edges away from tanks, barrels and technique to dirt and climate. For wines of character and individuality, it all comes down to the vineyard, all the rest is background noise. In the cellar, it is your job to get out of the way. Actually not out of the way, that’s too simplistic. An artisan winemaker’s job is to know what to do, when to do it and to do nothing more than is necessary - minimalist winemaking is the term I prefer over “natural”. In industrial winemaking, intervention is the rule not the exception, which is the correct strategy if your goal is to produce commercially reliable wines that taste the same year-after-year. 

There is little we know for sure in winemaking, but one thing I do know for sure is that if you don’t have the right dirt in the right place and the right vines in that dirt, you might be able to make good wines, but you’ll never make compelling memorable wines. 

It is very simple. If you want to make exceptional wine you have to have the right grapes in the right place farmed by the right people. The right people is easy, it’s you if you have the passion, resources and discipline to do the work in the vineyard. The variety and place are much more complicated matters. 

While visiting the east coast a few years ago, wondering about what it was like to grow grapes in such humid conditions, I asked a viticulturist how often he sprayed his vineyard. His response was every week - almost up to harvest. Another time I was talking to a grower from a famous west coast AVA who was farming “organically”. Asked about his spray program, he revealed that they were applying forty pounds of sulfur per acre every year. I was equally shocked in both cases because extreme measures had to be taken to grow grapes wine grapes on their sites. (Obviously calling that vineyard “organic” is a stretch of the imagination.) The vineyard on the east coast suffered from a climate unfavorable to wine grapes. The west coast vineyard was in an ideal climate, but either that individual site was less than ideal or the variety they had determined to grow in it was wrong for the site - or both.

The range of soils that can grow great wines has proven to be much broader than once thought. For example, you have pinot noir grown on high pH, alkaline soils in Burgundy, while Oregon’s Willamette Valley is dominated by low pH, acidic soils. Yet in blind tasting after blind tasting skilled, experienced wine tasters are fooled and confuse the wines of Burgundy and the Willamette Valley. However, the climate is much less forgiving than the soil - assuming healthy soils. Selecting the wrong variety for the site is almost as bad. Try to grow cabernet franc on too cool of a site and you’ll end up with pyrazine tea. Grow pinot noir in too hot of a site and you end up with a very expensive version of MD 20/20. Differences, I assure you, even amateur tasters can spot. You have to have the right variety in the right climate, the right terroir to make exceptional, memorable wines vintage after vintage. 

I am always confused by terroir deniers. Any farmer knows terroir exists no matter if they are growing wine grapes, apples, asparagus or tomatoes. One major difference between wine grape farmers and other farmers is that winegrowers will insist on growing a crop that is not economically viable in their growing conditions. Or, worse yet, will insist on overcoming nature and selling wine produced from chemically abused vineyards using every winemaking trick in the book to produce commercially and critically acceptable wines. 

The surest way to know if you’ve got the right vine in the right place is that the vineyard can be farmed year-after-year using ultra low-input agriculture. If you have to blast your vineyard with chemicals every week just to stop the grapes from rotting with mold before you can pick them perhaps you should rethink your choice of crops. Just because you can grow wine grapes does not mean you should. 

If each year you are in a battle with Mother Nature, you will eventually lose the war.

A First, Deeper Look at Dirt

 An electromagnetic soil scan of Troon Vineyard 

An electromagnetic soil scan of Troon Vineyard 

We received our first, very preliminary, electromagnetic soil scans this week. At this point, the main use of these scans will be to determine where to dig the many, up to 80, five feet deep trenches that will we will be digging in April for analysis by Dr. Paul Anamosa of Vineyard Soil Technologies. This information will guide us as we move forward in selecting varieties for new plantings and areas for grafting. It will also provide invaluable data for rootstock selection in our new plantings.

One very fascinating point to me at this stage is that you can see denser soil patterns in long lines that coincide with vineyard rows. These certainly come from years of tractor compaction and we will be working to open up those soils as we move forward with biodynamics.