Greg Schultz
 
March 4, 2017 | Greg Schultz

Is a vineyard a monoculture?

I have vivid mental images of vineyard scenes of the past: row after row in expansive fields of grapevines on top of bare dirt. I don't know if I actually visited such a vineyard or if I am remembering scenes from movies or photos in wine magazines. Our vineyard does not look like that, nor do any others with which I am currently familiar.

I just finished reading a book by Joel Salatin, one of my favorite sustainable agriculture authors. Joel is witty, knowledgeable, and unconventional. He has a beautiful farm in Virginia that he calls Polyface. I have read 5 or 6 of his books, some more than once, in my thirst for understanding how to be a good farmer. In a chapter on biodiversity, Joel writes about the common agricultural practice of planting huge acreages of one crop and the problems that can result because of the loss of symbiotic relationships that plants, animals, and insects have with each other. Monocultures are more susceptible to disease and pest pressures because the natural defense mechanisms are limited.

Debbie and I got out pen and paper one night after dinner and a glass or two of wine and brainstormed. Our vineyard is small enough that we don't meet the "expansive" size parameter typically assigned to a monoculture. But by planting a single crop of grapes in straight rows did we create a mini-monoculture that lacks natural diversity? From memory, we listed all the plants and animals that we have seen inside our 6 acre vineyard fence since we planted 3 years ago. Debbie added to the list several days later as more came to mind. I am pleased that we have a very diverse population of animals, flowers, grasses, weeds, insects, pollinators, and worms to help keep our vineyard healthy.

2016 view of healthy alleyway between rows

If you are interested in the list, I have tabulated it below. There are probably more that we can add to in the future.

Grapes Chicory Slugs
Bumble bees Butterflies Moths
Crimson clover Milkweed Purple dead nettle
White clover Common teasel Broadleaf plantain
Red clover Bittercress Bunch grass
Doves foot geranium Dandelion Gophers
Yellow star thistle Ground squirrels Rabbits
Spotted spurge Blackberry Raccoons
Curly dock Chickens Common mallow
Rye grass Hawks Prickly leaf lettuce
Bobcats Corn speedwell Queen Anne's lace
Skunks Burr chervil Lupine
Birds Ladybugs Praying mantis
Lambsquarter Moth mullein Squash bugs
Purslane Common mullein Earwigs
Pigweed Turkey mullein Tomato horn worms
False dandelion Bull thistle Earthworms
Common groundsel Canada thistle Wasps
Honey bees Coyotes Oak treelings
Spiders ... ...

Elsewhere on the farm and in the vineyard...

We started pruning our 3rd-leaf Malbec on February 27th beginning with row 68 and working backwards toward the tasting room. It takes us 4 man-hours per row to prune and tape. We love doing it and it's great exercise. Just for fun we prune one 4th leaf Tempranillo vine on our way back to the garage.  These vines are really starting to take on the mature shape of an older vine with 1-2 cordons and 10-12 two-bud spurs.

 

Raymond West from Mountain Creek Excavation helped us repair the driveway that blew out following 13 inches of snow and 12 inches of rain a week later.  It's nice to have our driveway back.

Raymond West working on culvert

With the longer days, our 8 hens have stepped up egg production. Our best day so far has been 7 eggs. They are beautiful and taste great. Fiercely protected by Rudy the rooster, our small flock is doing great work on vineyard weeds and bugs, and are a hoot (or crow!) to watch.

One dozen fresh vineyard eggs ready for market

All of our 2015 and 2016 wines that are still in barrel are progressing nicely. For our February wine club release we pulled a barrel sample of our 2016 Rosé of Tempranillo and offered tastes to anyone interested.

Rosé barrel sample

It was delicious and we are...

...one day closer to our first estate wine!

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