Sunday, November 27, 2011

Organic and Dry Farming John Williams of Frog's Leap's Surprising Start

This month's Wines and Vines has a lovely interview with the man most people think of first when they think "Napa and organic" - John Williams of Frog's Leap who started on the organic path in 1988.

Raised on a dairy farm in New York State, he thought he would go on to pursue the family business. And even for the first ten years in the winery business, he only bought grapes.

When he first bought land in Rutherford (Frog's Leap has 250 acres today), he needed help to actually grow the grapes. It took Amigo Bob, who the Fetzers recommended at the time, to set Williams on the path that lead him to certify all of of his land as organic - and Frank Leeds, the legendary grower, to show him how to dry farm it as well.

Here are a few of the best bits from the interview:

"Upon loosening the soil, returning organic matter and stimulating the soil organisms, we almost immediately see health returning to the vines, and within three years we are usually able to disconnect them from their water and fertilizer dependencies."


"...the truth is that easily 90% of the Napa Valley vineyard sites neither need, nor benefit from, irrigation. We know this because for more than 100 years that’s how grapes were grown here. All the great and fundamental wines that established the reputation of the Napa Valley, every one was from a dry-farmed vineyard."


I personally think history will show that the introduction of drip was the primary cause for the phylloxera crisis of the late ’80s and early ’90s."


We believe that not only are irrigation systems in most Napa Valley vineyards unnecessary, wasteful and costly, but indeed they have been detrimental to wine quality and a primary contributor to a changing wine style characterized by lower natural acidities, higher pHs, much higher alcohol contents and a greater adaptation of winemaking intervention....we have grapevines with root zones the size of basketballs living on a “Coke and candy bar diet” of fertilizer and water applied weekly until the day they are picked? 

Read the full interview at:
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