Planting New Vineyards at Troon – Getting to Know You

Troon assistant winemaker Cary Willeford applies Biodynamic Preparation 508 to newly arrived vines  

Standing there looking at the now real Troon Vineyard block 9, newly planted with mourvèdre, was an emotional experience. So much planning, work and investment transformed from an idea into a vineyard. There in front of me, I could finally feel the wine that would come from these vines. Putting a plant in the ground that hopefully will be producing wines long after I’m gone is a very different experience than planting a crop that will be replaced after one season. But it was the day before that we got to know each of these vines.

The process of preparing these vines for their new home begins the day before planting. Troon winemaker Nate Wall and assistant winemaker Cary Willeford and I spent the day preparing and applying a series of Biodynamic Preparations to the new plants. First was Biodynamic Barrel Compost, which we dynamized for twenty minutes by hand before applying to the roots of each plant to give their microbiome a head start. Meanwhile, we had been preparing a tea of Biodynamic Preparation 508 (equisetum or horsetail).  Which was also dynamized by hand then sprayed on the leaves and graft junctions. This preparation helps the plant ward off fungal diseases like powdery mildew. The time, care and intention that went into this process I believe are integral to what makes Biodynamics such a powerful agricultural system. The culture we built by providing care and attention to each plant changes our relationship to them and to each other.

Biodynamics achieves many goals. Your soils are healthier, your plants are healthier, your fruit tastes better, your wine is better and, obviously, its better for the environment. It is a lot of work, but it is also a lot of fun. You feel good about what you’re doing everyone feels pride in a shared worthwhile endeavor.

Yesterday afternoon all of our existing vineyards were also treated with Biodynamic Barrel Compost, we did not want them to feel left out. After all, plants do talk to each other you know.

Planting New Vineyards at Troon - Getting to Know You

Troon assistant winemaker Cary Willeford and winemaker Nate Wall apply Biodynamic Barrel Compost to the roots of the new vines. 

Planting New Vineyards at Troon – It Only Looks Like the Beginning


Planting New Vineyards at Troon - It Only Looks Like the Beginning
Planting New Vineyards at Troon - It Only Looks Like the Beginning

New vines arrived at Troon Vineyard yesterday from Inland Desert Nursery in Washington - mourvèdre, grenache noir and marsanne all neatly packed into shipping boxes. Next week more classic southern French varieties will arrive and within the next ten days, we’ll have planted over 14,000 vines to create ten new acres of vineyard.

Stacked in their shipping boxes they look like the beginning of a project, but it only looks that way. This project started a year and a half ago and the arrival of the vines themselves is closer to the end than the beginning of the project of planting a vineyard. The first step was extensive soil studies as Vineyard Soil Technologies dug more than seventy five-feet deep soil pits to create detailed soil profiles. Based on that data we selected ten acres as ideal for vineyard development. Combining the soil data and climate data with our experience we selected the varieties we felt would be best matched to each vineyard block to be developed. We then begin working with Inland Desert Nursery to obtain the clones of the varieties we chose to focus on. The varieties we were looking for are not the most popular so ordering from the nursery long in advance is required.

Planting does not begin with plants. First, there was the soil work and that filled most of the last year and a half. Once the blocks to be planted were identified the ground had to be prepared. That meant heavy equipment as a D8 ripped the ground to a depth of thirty-six inches. Prior to the ripping, we applied five tons per acre of organic compost along with other soil amendments that we discovered were required by our soil studies. This was followed by discing then yet another finishing discing. When the soil was prepared we seeded a specifically designed cover crop to add nutrition to the soil. As Biodynamic farmers, we also did our first application of Biodynamic Preparation 500.

Over the winter and spring, the cover crop prospered. This was then mowed, then disced into the soil as green manure. Then the vineyard begin to take form as we put in end posts, stakes for each vine (head-trained vines) and irrigation tubes for the soon to arrive young, and very thirsty vines. In addition, another application of Biodynamic preparation 500 was applied to both the blocks to be planted along with all existing vineyard blocks.

Only after all of this investment and work did we arrive at last Friday, when the first vines arrived. Their arrival was the culmination of all of this work, not the beginning. However, these vines mark the beginning of new wines that will come from the grapes they will yield. In that sense, they are truly a new beginning for Troon Vineyard.

As you see, the plan for planting these new acres at Troon was built upon scientific research, extensive viticultural experience, the principles of Biodynamic agriculture and on a vision to make wines with a unique character defined by our soils and the climate on the Kubli Bench in Oregon's Applegate Valley.

Over the next weeks, I will be documenting the process of planting these new vines at Troon Vineyard in words and images. I invite you to share that process with us as we build a foundation for a new generation of wines at Troon.

Taking the Parking Lot Back to Paradise

Brassica and sweet peas bloom as part of the cover crop regenerating soils at Troon Vineyard 

 Hey farmer farmer

Put away that D.D.T. now

Give me spots on my apples

But leave me the birds and the bees

Please

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got

'Till it's gone

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot

  • Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

I felt like I was walking on blacktop. Hard, hot and lifeless it looked like a place where a parking attendant would work, not a farmer. But this was a vineyard. Each vine looked like it was a weed growing out of cracks in the blacktop on some worn parking lot.

Living soil gives life. In this vineyard the soil was dead and the vines were dying. Yet, it was a beautiful site and the vines were giving some good wines even as they struggled to survive. They deserved better.

There seemed only one route back to health that could provide the opportunity to make the wines I believed had the potential to produce. That path was biodynamics, which is the best existing framework for regenerative agriculture. To craft the wines we aspired to make, our soils, indeed our entire farm needed regeneration. It is never just the soil that needs regeneration, but also the spirit. At Troon, not only were our soils abused.

How was a vineyard transformed into a parking lot? Only through the abuses of industrial, thoughtless farming can soil be so decimated. Sick soils make sick plants and these poor vines were overcome with viruses and fungal diseases that stronger plants could have resisted. It became our mission to bring them back to health so they could live out their remaining years doing what Mother Nature intended them to do with their lives - ripen grapes.

Then there is intention, perhaps the key to regenerative agriculture. Previously their intent was to extract all they could from the land and extract they did. Today our mission is to give back more than we take. To be a good farmer you must work for the farmers who will farm the land in the future with the same fervor you work for yourself.

The path from parking lot to vineyard started with science. We did extensive soil studies with Vineyard Soil Technologies and worked with Biomemakers to establish a complete cross-section of our vineyard microbiome through genetic sequencing. To know where you need to go, you first have to know where you are.

Then came the proactive part - biodynamics. The essence of biodynamics is building healthy soils. The main tool in the biodynamic toolbox is compost. Over the last years we have been applying tons of biodynamic compost to our vineyards. In addition to the compost, now that chemicals were eradicated and weed control was returned to manual methods our soils began to change, the microbiome bloomed. Today you can walk into our vineyard and easily dig your hands into healthy arable soil.

That parking lot has been replaced by paradise - a vineyard.

More Biodynamic Fake News…

Harvest 2018 at Troon Vineyard in Oregon’s Applegate Valley.

Tired old canards. When will the media get on board with modern biodynamics? While the article Weighing Up the Value of Biodynamic Wine by Vicki Denig addresses valid concerns, once again the sources for the article are either misinformed or have an ax to grind. Here is a link to the original article:

https://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2019/04/weighing-up-the-value-of-biodynamic-wine?rss=Y

“Couple that with calendar-specific workdays and strict following of the lunar cycle, and even the smallest of vineyards would face significant time restraints and financial challenges. So when a sizeable estate decides to go biodynamic, is it actually achievable?”

“However, not all winemakers are convinced. In Crete, Giannis Stilianou, winemaker and owner of Stilianou Wines, explains that with larger properties, cultivating with biodynamic principles is nearly impossible, mainly because farmers are only permitted to execute vineyard work on a small amount of very specific days”

The Demeter standard for wines states, “Observation of the Biodynamic calendar is encouraged.” It does not demand only “calendar-specific work days or that “farmers are only permitted to execute vineyard work...on very specific days.” The statements above are false and following the biodynamic calendar is not required for Demeter Certification.

The work of all the biodynamic farmers I know is focused on regenerative agriculture. Their goal is to build the health of their soils and plants. In trying to follow the biodynamic calendar we are reaching for the very peak of quality. That extra edge that pushes our wines beyond just being delicious to becoming truly alive in the glass. If you can’t prune or pick on the ideal day due to weather and practical considerations you know that all of the other work you’ve done will still make exceptional wine. What we reach for by trying to do our work on certain days, by paying attention to the natural cycle of the Moon, is to go beyond simply delicious and make a wine that sings of the vineyard itself. A wine that is transparent and living.

“And for others, size isn't even the biggest issue. Stu Smith, partner and enologist at St. Helena-based Smith-Madrone Vineyards dug deep into the world of biodynamics – and still wasn't convinced. "I discovered that Rudolf Steiner had never been a farmer," he says, noting that Steiner went from student to agricultural theorist, without any experience in the field. Smith explains that when he'd challenge biodynamic farmers on their lack of trials and published results, their response was always that it's a belief system.”

Mr. Smith “discovered” that Rudolf Steiner had never been a farmer. Digging deep? An amazing discovery? I think not. Rudolf Steiner is famous for being a philosopher and founding the Waldorf schools, not for being a farmer, as a quick look at Wikipedia will show you. What we today call biodynamics was only outlined by Steiner in a series of lectures in 1924. He did not go from “student to agricultural theorist”, but gave the lectures at the end of his life at the request of a group of farmers. The modern practice of biodynamics has been built after his death on the experience and experiments of several generations of biodynamic farmers. None of the biodynamic wine growers I personally know consider biodynamic farming a “belief system”, but see it as a framework to build on with a goal of taking their farming to a new level. Contrary to what Mr. Smith may believe, Nicolas Joly is not your typical biodynamic winegrower.

“Smith also takes issue with what he deems to be close-mindedness amongst biodynamic farmers, from both large and small estates. "They are the only group out there that says 'our way is the only way, and everyone else is doing it wrong'. Organic and sustainable farmers don't do that, but biodynamic farmers do."

This, simply, is total bullshit.

“And when it comes down to it, Smith sees it all as a fast-track to making money. "There are so many wineries that need to find their place in the sun," he says, calling out the appeal of biodynamics to Millennial consumers. "In my opinion, it's a marketing ploy – do you see biodynamic carrots? Lettuce? Peaches? No. They're doing it in wine in America as a marketing concept so they sell their product easier and get a higher price for it."

Yes, Mr. Smith, you do see biodynamic carrots, lettuce, and peaches, just not enough of them. The reason you see few of these biodynamically certified fruits vegetables and wines is that practicing biodynamics is hard work and unlikely to reward with you with enough additional profit to justify the effort. You choose biodynamics because of a commitment to reach for something special. Demeter USA currently has certification protocols for Fruit and Vegetables; Nuts, Seeds and Kernels; Bread, Cakes and Pastries; Grain, Cereal, Tofu and Pasta; Herbs and Spices; Meat; Dairy; Oils and Fats; Sweetening Agents, Confectionary, Ice Cream, Chocolate; Cosmetics and Body Care; Textiles; Wine; Beer; Spirits; Cider and Fruit Wines; Infant Formula. It seems he is shopping in the wrong markets, perhaps he should give Google a try?

Then there is his “marketing ploy” statement, which any accountant for a biodynamic winery would get a big laugh over.

“Others think that many biodynamic practices are, frankly, bullshit.”

I'll tell you the real bullshit. It’s farming with chemicals that destroy the environment and cause cancer. It’s making boring industrial wine. If a little voodoo will save the planet, count me in. Voodoo is just what people call something they don’t understand.

Looking at Steiner in the Rearview Mirror

Rudolf Steiner gave his agricultural lectures, the beginning of biodynamics, in 1924. There were eight lectures over thirteen days given to a group of over one hundred farmers. He died in 1925. During the last of the agricultural lectures he said, “I am in entire agreement with the strict resolve which has been made by our farmer friends here present, namely, that what has been given here to all those partaking in the Course shall remain for the present within the farmers' circle. They will enhance it and develop it by actual experiments and tests. The farmers' society — the “Experimental Circle” that has been formed — will fix the point of time when in its judgment the tests and experiments are far enough advanced to allow these things to be published."

Here are some discoveries that happened from 1924, when Steiner gave the agricultural lectures and the five years after his death in 1925:

1924 – Wolfgang Pauli: quantum Pauli exclusion principle

1924 – Edwin Hubble: the discovery that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies

1925 – Erwin Schrödinger: Schrödinger equation (Quantum mechanics)

1925 – Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: Discovery of the composition of the Sun and that Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe

1927 – Werner Heisenberg: Uncertainty principle (Quantum mechanics)

1927 – Georges Lemaître: Theory of the Big Bang

1928 – Paul Dirac: Dirac equation (Quantum mechanics)

1929 – Edwin Hubble: Hubble's law of the expanding universe

1929 – Alexander Fleming: Penicillin, the first beta-lactam antibiotic

1929 – Lars Onsager's reciprocal relations, a potential fourth law of thermodynamics

1930 – Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar discovers his eponymous limit of the maximum mass of a white dwarf star

There was a lot Steiner and his compatriots did not know in 1924. What they did know was that the new chemical farming strategies that were taking over the world were destroying the land and our food. They may not have known why, but they knew something was wrong. At least they had the courage to seek a solution.

To take a frightening hypothetical, suppose you were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow. Would you want to be treated by a doctor with the knowledge that existed in 1920 or one armed with all the knowledge acquired in the last one hundred years? I think farmers should make the same argument when it comes to Steiner and biodynamics . We need to build on the wisdom of the past and it is our job to push that knowledge forward. We need not be held back by their ignorance nor condemn them for it - they knew what they knew and no more, just like us. Future generations will find us as ignorant as we find those that came before us.

Steiner clearly identified the problem and outlined an answer, but he was locked in a world that was not only in chaos after World War I, but in an era where modern science and new knowledge was exploding. His answer was to reach back and there was true wisdom in that when it came to farming. However, we must take Steiner’s world into consideration when evaluating his solutions. It is always wise to question the wisdom of your gurus. Much of what we call biodynamics today has little to do with Steiner. Names like Maria Thun, Herbert Koepf, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and Manfred Klett established the liturgy of biodynamics. They took Steiner’s outline, then left it behind. We should do the same to them.

Steiner may not have known there were other galaxies or that the universe was expanding, but he did understand there were problems down on the farm. His ideas created a framework to build upon. He expected us to build on it, not leave his lectures frozen in time. Our job as biodynamic farmers is to continue the experiments as he requested until we find why biodynamics works, which it does. The problem right now is that we do not know the parts of biodynamics that work and those that don’t. Does every preparation work as he described? Of course not. Yet, there is something clearly working here and in the face of climate change we better figure out what works. There are no gnomes out there in the vineyard, but there are fungi and bacteria and in them we will find the real magic that makes biodynamics work. Are there Elemental Beings? Of course there are, they are just microscopic. 

The ultimate expression of biodynamics is when you go beyond it and craft the right solutions for your farm. Striving for Demeter certification is like a jazz musician practicing scales over and over again. It is only after they master their instrument that they can improvise and truly create something new. 

The next iteration of biodynamics is already in motion. People like Kevin Chambers at Koosah Farm and Ted Lemon at Littorai Wines are already moving beyond biodynamics to find new expressions of the preparations born of their direct experience on their farms. Practical biodynamics is being being taught to farmers (like us at Troon) by consultant Andrew Beedy, who was mentored by the famed Alan York. The practice of biodynamics has been and always will be evolving. 

What Steiner said in the agricultural lectures was meaningful, insightful and important in the maelstrom that was Europe in 1924. In the almost one hundred years since the lectures, we have learned a lot. It is our role as farmers to meld the insights of the past with the knowledge of today and to build a foundation for the future. That is the essence of biodynamics. Seeking truth and building a relationship with our planet and our place in the Universe is both a spiritual quest and a commercial one. Steiner is of the past, but biodynamics is of the future. What biodynamics will become is yet to be discovered. 

Steiner would have loved quantum physics. The uncertainty principle Is very biodynamic.


 

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.