“A lot of the early farmers, as a lot of the farmers still do today, viewed nature as something to wrestle into submission and control,” explains winemaker Steven Canter who has spent most of his career working with nature to grow grapes without synthetic inputs to create organic wines.
Today, Canter speaks with pride of helping Sonoma County, California’s Quivira winery create their “fertility” entirely on their property- with the exception of the cow manure imported from a local farm-, but until recently, if you were a vintner farming organically, it was not something to broadcast.
“It had been assumed in the wine industry, or at least conventional wisdom in the last 10 to 15 years, was that organic was not a value-added to wine. It was not something you wanted to discuss if you were farming organic. People said the reason for this was that in the 70s, there were a few organic wines that came to market made by very idealistic folks who didn’t know the first damn thing about making wines and made miserable wines and that sort of tarnished the image of organic wine.”
In the past few years, organic has become not just a mark of sustainability for the wine industry, but one of quality. “It seems to be gaining momentum,” says Canter, “as a lot of the greatest wine producers in the world are quietly putting up their hands and saying, ‘well I’ve been organic for 200 years on this property'”.
Quivira has been certified organic and biodynamic since 2006- they started the process in 2002- and in 2009 three of their wines won medals at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Those at Quivira credit their organic, and biodynamic, status as helping them achieve superior wines. “When we recycle back into the earth everything that has come from it, over time we enchance a vineyard’s unique characteristics. The result is wine that truly embodies its place of origin.”
Their practices are radically different from traditional viticulture. Instead of synthetic herbicides they use a “hoe plow” to smother most in-row weeds and tilling and mowed cover crops take care of weeds in between rows (a small herd of goat manage the rest of the property). They use diluted milk or whey to control mildew and disease and plant Perennial Calendula and Wild Oats “to encourage Beneficials- the ‘good’ bugs which destroy the ‘bad bugs'”.
Quivira’s philosophy of being good stewards of the land extends beyond the growing season. For their energy needs, they have installed a 55kW solar electric system. They’ve cut water usage via a steam cleansing machine. And to promote biodiversity, they house bees, bats and bluebirds on the property and plant special insectory areas to attract birds and insects.
In this video, Quivira’s winemaker Steven Canter shows us the property, their solar panels and how they work with nature to create fertility and high quality wines.