What is sustainable viticulture?

view of Dancing Crow Vineyard


People often wonder what the term “sustainable” really means. We were interviewed on this topic recently and thought our answers to the questions would be of interest.

Describe your climate-friendly practices, such as mulching, conservative agriculture, etc. 

We make sure that every vineyard we work with has a soil preservation program and cover crop management or mulch application program. For example, we apply mulch at Old Stake and at Dancing Crow Sauvignon Blanc vineyard we use an organic max tilth builder cover crop that is a “plow down” mixture.  We would use more bio-diesel in our tractors, but it tends to freeze and become a gelatin like goo at our temperature due to the high climate freeze in winter.  It is going to be 17F tomorrow (Dec 27th 2021) in the vineyards!

Describe your soil management and soil fertility practices.

Soil management starts with minimizing compaction and increasing tilth (water and air retention) that fosters bio-diversity.  Compacted anaerobic soils are bad for biodiversity and produce lousy wines.  So, we manage our cover crow and / or mulch applications to maximize the return of nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon back to the soil at the right time of the year.  Our vineyards can only be cultivated during the shoulder months of the rainy season.  This awareness helps to incorporate the cover crop when it will do the most good.  If we apply man made fertilizer, we always pair that with an organic addition as well so that we can preserve the soil ecology.

Pruning material is mowed back into the vineyard so that it composts into the soil. We don’t burn our pruning wood unless we get crown gall in a vineyard.  We haven’t yet.

Describe your crop management practices.

We really try to grow as much fruit as we can at our altitude (1,350-3,000 feet).  This sounds like we are overloading the vines, but we only get surprisingly low yields from the sites.

For example:

Old Stake (Old Vines): 2.5 tons/acre

Dancing Crow Sauvignon Blanc: 3-4 tons/acre

Old Stake Cabernet Sauvignon: 4-4.5 tons/acre

Describe your weed management practices. 

Drilled cover crop in fall, after harvest.  Alternate row vine drying (retention of cover crow in every other row).  Cultivation of rows by mowing all rows but tilling every other row (disk and harrow that is dragged after) during April-June only.  We try to minimize our broad leaf weed profile with our cover crop blend but we have had issues with Morning Glory (AKA: “bind weed”) in the blocks that are newly replanted.  We will clear this up with shovels and then use a spray of glyphosphonate (not glyphosphate, aka “Round-Up”, which has been banned in our vineyards since 2018) to manage this problem.  One application usually works.

Describe your insect & pest management practices.

We use pheromone traps to disrupt the mating cycle for the Virginia Creeper (invades from pear orchards)

Other than that, a spray of stylet oil (organic) is fine for leaf hoppers in June if they become problematic (1 year every 3-4).  We don’t have any other pest issues in art due to the mountain climate of Lake County.

We do spray for powdery mildew in May and June.  Sulfur dust (organic) is applied and then we follow up with something like Flint (a Sterol Biosynthase inhibitor or SBI) in early July since it is too hot to apply either sulfur or stylet oil.  Three sprays total for the season.

Additional information.

We have not fenced our vineyards.  This permits them to remain viable wildlife corridors.  We get lots of deer migrating through.  Sometimes they eat the young shoots, but we can accept that as a “nature tax.”  The Dancing Crow Vineyard itself is home to a set of bee hives from the local bee keeper.  They are a good gauge of our spray practices.  We want to make sure that we remain bee friendly.  Dancing Crow also has a resident owl population.  We maintain their home in our barn provide them with a nice set back of trees from the vineyard to maintain that wildlife corridor.

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