Friday, August 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Vineyards: The Davis World View

Teaching vineyard at U.C. Davis
I had occasion last week to see the alpha and omega of California wine grape growing - touring the U.C. Davis teaching vineyard with Professor Andy Walker and touring a vineyard on Spring Mountain in Napa with renowned biodynamic consultant Phillipe Armenier.

I went to Davis for a two day class on wine grapes - ampelography - or the study of wine grape varieties. Mornings were spent in the teaching vineyard to see the grapes growing - whites one day and reds the next.

As we entered the vineyard, Walker apologized. "We'd be in our new vineyard," he said, "at the new Mondavi center, but someone put herbicide (Oust) at the edge of the property and it leached into the field, so we can't plant there for two years."

"Was there going to be an organic vineyard there, as well?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

So, Davis had killed its own vineyard before it was even planted. Oh my.

After our vineyard time in the morning, we would come back to the classroom for a quick lunch and then on to an hour and half of lecture. On Day 2, one of the topics was viruses, in particular the new scary one - Red Blotch - and the state of virus-infested new vines in California.

I'm not going to go into how the Davis-approved "clean" vines have been nothing but, causing a great deal of angst and economic loss to unsuspecting growers. And it's not for the first time that Davis has misrepresented the goods. We have Davis' rootstock advice to thank for the phylloxera epidemic of the 90s - and now the 20-year-later widespread replanting wave, as worn out vines have to be replaced, often accompanied by fumigation, likely one of the worst toxic side effects of chemical wine grape farming.

Red blotch wiped out the U.C. Davis' Oakville vineyard in Napa as well - necessitating taking out the whole vineyard and replanting it.

When will they learn? When will we have studies on viticulture ecology as the way to farm? We're not really studying the proper defense mechanisms. Unlike Oregon, Washington and Utah - where professors have been researching the effects of biodynamic farming and finding it's surprisingly helpful in boosting microbial activity and plant resilience.

One look at this "sanitary" Davis teaching vineyard - hard pan soils, no compost applied ("we did it for awhile but then it was too much work," Walker says), no other life forms besides grapes on trellises - sick vines, I might add. "Yes, we were seeing some mildew so we've turned on the fungicides last night." Walker says of the fertigated vines. (Fertigation is the process of adding fertilizers and other chemicals to the vines via the irrigation water.)

To the naked eye, this system of farming looks more like a marijuana growers' hydroponics setup. Soil isn't needed. Man controls the environment here with fertilizers and evil things to keep the predators at bay, as the vines are now totally defenseless and dependent on the "system."

Coming soon - pictures from another vineyard and another system.

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