A common misconception about organic agriculture is that it involves doing nothing: what can be more organic, after all, than watching your crop become destroyed by insects and disease (ah, the circle of life!). What “organic” means can be answered in two ways:
Firstly, “organic” means agricultural practices that do not use synthetic substances. Prohibited substances include most of the designer pesticides and fungicides commonly used by large agribusinesses. While these pesticides and fungicides are proven to increase crop yields, the lingering health effects to consumers are not completely understood. Conventional wisdom would suggest that a tomato grown without applications of poison would be healthier than the alternative. Because organic farming generally sees lower crop yields, organic foods tend to be more expensive.
Secondly, “organic” is a legal term as defined by the USDA’s National Organic Program that can only be used on a label if every step of production has been certified. This includes the materials that we use to manage the vineyard. Most of these substances are considered “natural,” in that they are mined directly from the earth, processed from plants, or grown “naturally” in a lab. Each certifier of organic farms has a list of approved materials. The most common list is OMRI’s list (Organic Material Review Institute). This is the list that we consult, and it governs much of what we use.
Conventional pesticides and fungicides are generally poisons—that is their method of killing insects or disease. Organic sprays often work more indirectly, and are inherently less effective. It has been described as “farming with two hands tied behind your back,” which is funny, but couldn’t be further from the truth as so much hand work is necessary to do what your sprays cannot. At our small scale, all shoot positioning, leaf pulling, shoot shinning, desuckering, fruit culling, and winter pruning is done by hand. Each vine receives about 30 minutes of TLC throughout the growing season, which is well above industry average but very necessary for us.
So that’s just the nuts and bolts of organic. Click here for The Madness Behind the Method.