|Subject||Sustainable or Organic Viticulture|
Sustainable agriculture has been increasingly embraced over the past two decades. Practices that offer environmental protection, economic viability and social equity are utilized. This "third way" blends organic and conventional pest management/production methods, not exclusive of synthetic materials, to achieve this broad set of goals. Wine-grape partnerships have been created in California to establish agreements over multiple seasons between growers, growers' organizations, agricultural scientists, and often regulators.|
Organic Winegrowing is a farming system that produces fruit and wine in accordance with regulations of the National Organic Program (NOP). By definition, “Organic farming is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”
In practice, growers use crop protectants and fertilizers from naturally produced sources, such as botanicals, mined minerals, and animal and plant byproducts. Cover cropping and compost are used to build soil organic matter and provide nutrients. Biological control is encouraged, and many growers plant covercrops and hedgerows that provide habitat for both generalist and specific predators and parasitoid insects and mites. Canopy management practices such as sterile shoot removal, leaf pulling and shoot positioning are an integral part of both pest and disease management strategies and quality fruit production.
There are over 8,000 acres of certified organically farmed vineyards in California. Growers farm this way because of their concerns for the environment, worker safety, consideration of their neighbors’ concerns about pesticide use, and most importantly, as a way of producing high quality fruit and wine.
In practice, organic farmers use a wide range of farming systems. Heritage Organic Winegrowing uses old fashion techniques such as head pruning, cross tillage, sulfur dusting, composting and cover cropping, and no irrigation. Often, these vineyards are old, planted to varieties including Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignane. Modern Organic Winegrowing utilizes more contemporary practices, including trellising, drip irrigation, denser spacings, international varieties and modern rootstocks.
Cost studies done by UCCE show that organic winegrowing can be slightly more expensive than conventional farming, although growers experiences suggest that there are not large differences in either costs or yields between the two farming approaches.
Unlike other commodities, organic wine grapes do not command a premium simply because they are farmed organically. They still must have the quality potential being sought for specific wine programs, and growers are paid on the basis of the bottle price of the wine.
The USDA NOP regulations allow for two categories of finished wines made from organically farmed wine grapes. Organic Wine is the product of organically farmed wine grapes that are then made into wine without the addition of sulfites. Because no sulfites are added, these wines are prone to oxidation and spoilage from secondary fermentations. They should be consumed while young. Wine Made from Organically Grown Grapes allows added sulfites at low levels, and are more stable and capable of aging without defects.
There are significant differences between the terms "sustainable" and "organic," and they should not be confused or used interchangeably. However, many of the publications and references are applicable to those interested in either topic and therefore both categories are included.
USDA Alternative Farming Systems Information Center The Sustainable Viticulture area lists a wide selection of links to organizations and resources.
McGourty, G., Ohmart, J. and Chaney, D. 2011. Organic Winegrowing Manual. Agricultural and Natural Resources, University of California Publication 3511. 192 pp. View Publication at ANR Bookstore
McGourty, G. and Reganold, J. 2005. Managing Vineyard Soil Organic Matter with Cover Crops. In Proceedings - Soil Environment and Vine Mineral Nutrition Symposium, L.P. Christensen and D.R. Smart, eds. American Society for Enology and Viticulture. pp145-151. ASEV Publications
Reeve, J. et al. 2005. Soil and Winegrape Quality in Biodynamically and
Ross, K. and Golino, D. 2008. Wine grapes go green: The sustainable viticulture story (pdf). California Agriculture, 62:4:125-126. http://CaliforniaAgriculture.ucop.edu
Schwankl, L. and McGourty, G. 1992. Before-and-after tests on emifters show.. . Organic fertilizers can be injected through low volume irrigation systems (pdf). California Agriculture, 46:5:21-23. http://CaliforniaAgriculture.ucop.edu