Building a “Greener” Vineyard by Making it, Well, Greener

Ask yourself this: what does the quintessential vineyard look like when you picture “vineyard” in your mind? I’m willing to bet it’s a sunny, expansive tract with rows upon rows of grapevines neatly spaced across a dirt floor.


It’s also the image you get should you Google it. 

Of course, you’re not “wrong” here. That’s certainly what they’ve come to look like. Unfortunately, however, like most conventional industries, it’s horrifically unsustainable, and that image has embedded itself in our minds as what vineyards are supposed to look like.

That being said, it’s only a “problem” insofar as we continue to let it be. Most, if not all, of our industrious ventures have been excessively resource intensive just like this one, but it’s a matter of now recognizing the problem and moving forward with that in theory and – most importantly – in practice.

The first commercial vineyard in the United States started in Pennsylvania in 1793. But it wasn’t until the 1980s when any light was shed on organic or more sustainable farming practice, when the USDA published a report on organic farming. That’s nearly 200 years of the commercial wine industry saying “IDGAF”. Basically.

The biggest problems we see with the original vineyard image, like most other conventional farms, is the monoculture approach. If you have only so many acres of land and you are to grow grapes on it to make wine or to sell those grapes to a vintner, wouldn’t it make sense to only grow grapes and not waste money, time, effort, and space on other crops?

Perhaps that sounds about right, but that’s not how nature works. And unlike most things we’ve built, you can’t just hack nature.  At a high level, biodiversity is key to the success of the natural world. Plain and simple. You can’t just grow grapes as a standalone entity. If you try to, that’s where you seemingly need to add herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers to help it grow, and water it incessantly because it seems it can’t get enough and won’t hold it in. Should you just add some its partner crops, however (like oregano, clover, peas, and beans), and add some compost, you’ll find that these not only help to provide many of the nutrients the grapes need, but also help to retain water in the surrounding soil, prevent erosion, and in turn support many other life forms like birds and bugs that are natural “insecticides”, whose biological systems help to make these systems more self-sustaining. It’s all about the nutrient symbioses that nature, somehow, has figured out how to do, and we decided to fuck with out of our human superiority complex that I think, now, we have realized was idiotic at best.

While it isn’t a hard and fast rule (because one could just seed grass for aesthetic reasons for tours), the greener the vineyard the better. A vineyard that is more greenly landscaped in color is more “green” in the figurative sense. It’s where the term evolved from, so – you get it. A “green”/green vineyard is one that restores natural habitats and biodiversity, and consumes less water and energy. And it’s just as, if not more so, picturesque.


Last Sunday I was at a wine tasting event, and I was actually quite pleasantly surprised by the amount of sustainable and organic wines available at each table. (It should be said that many of these wines were from California, and given its lack of water resources its environmental stance is particularly aggressive.) It seems that, with the rest of the sustainable sustenance movement, I think wine is right up there with it.

Lastly, on the note of “organic” and “sustainable” products, and something to always keep in mind: it is up to the conscientious consumer (you!) to do hir own bit of research, and not simply search for a label on the package or website. Take, for instance, one winery’s product I tried at this event. First of all, it was a damn good wine. Second, it was not certified organic, nor did the vineyard ever want to be. As the rep explained to me, 99% of the time it is functioning at or above organic and sustainable standards. However, should there be an infestation, fungus, or other small natural disaster that jeopardizes the whole year’s crop, the vineyard will step in with the least amount of synthetic product necessary to save their crop for that year (and the income/livelihood of the people it supports).
It’s just like an incredibly significant number of small farms around the US (and the world) whose farming practice meets or even far exceeds any USDA Organic certification, but it simply cannot afford to have the USDA audit its practices for thousands of dollars and a stamp in return, or similarly be pigeonholed into losing a whole year’s income (or more) because it can’t, one time, use a little bit of product without losing all cred. But with just a bit of research or a few more questions (get to know your farmer/brewery/winemaker/butcher!), you can find out things beyond oft misleading labels, or the lack thereof – and build strong communities, too.


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