A Mission Trip: Oregon Biodynamic Wineries

June has been an exceptional month for our family – after our Costa Rica vacation, we took another 2 weeks traveling north to Oregon with the Stelzle family from Venteux Vineyards. Along the way we stopped at quite a few farms and vineyards – Phillip is determined to get to know as many Biodynamic farmers as possible, to build a rapport with them which will allow him to have personal contact them when necessary when those heavy questions of “what to do now?” are looming on the mind. At this moment we are battling a small case of powdery mildew (in the Tempranillo) and Phillip is researching all of the different methods of managing it without the blanket and consistent spraying of sulfur (which is allowed in the Biodynamic world of farming to fight powdery mildew, however, it has many drawbacks against it: it is really horrible to work with, getting into one’s throat and eyes, it does tend to kill beneficial insects, we utilize native yeasts when making wine and sulfur also kills these). Phillip’s objective: to find a blend of products to use – perhaps in conjunction with sulfur if necessary – that isn’t so extreme.

We kicked off the trip staying a night at Montemaggiore in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley (CA) with Vincent & Lise Ciolina. They have a beautiful 55 acre estate where they concentrate exclusively on Syrah & Cabernet. (We especially love the ’05 Nobile!) Our arrival was a bit hectic (2 r.v.s…2 dogs…2 kids running around…), but we were able to sit and enjoy our wine while taking in a spectacular view. Vincent showed us his super-duper “tea brewing” machine (wow!) and shared with us an experiment he is conducting to battle powdery mildew with a 2 tea of worm castings. He is experimenting with an acre only, but continues to spray sulfur throughout the remainder of the vineyard. They are soon to produce Biodynamic olive oil as well. This is a winery worth scheduling an appointment for…

Cooper Mountain Vineyards was our first Biodynamic winery stop in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. We were so happy to pull up to the winery and see a beautiful flowform in the middle of their turning circle (above picture)–as we are seriously thinking of installing a flowform near the winery as an alternative to using the stirring machine (plus it’s beautiful, and a source of water for the bees!). We immediately met the owner who wanted Phillip to meet Gilles, the vineyard manager and winemaker. This winery incorporates many aspects of homeopathy whilst farming Biodynamically. Of course, the Pinot Noirs were full of freshness and flavor!

Maysara is a winery located in the southern Willamette Valley. The above picture is of Moe Momtazi, the owner. He, his wife and 3 daughters farm this incredible 500 acre estate with enthusiasm and great imagination–again, all of these vineyards are exploring different natural ways to make their vines and soil healthy. As we arrived, all of the employees were undergoing a health check, as well as a vision check–all on the winery. This is another tenant of Biodynamic farming that is important: the respect and proper payment of all of the men and women working on these farms, and the responsibility of the owner(s) to treat all employees with their best health interests in mind.

Phillip could have spent days with Gilles and Moe, he is just scratching the surface and beginning to grasp alternative methods to work with common ailments in the vineyard. Thankfully, farming is an ongoing process and there is always time to learn, observe, challenge one’s self…and patiently wait!

And then on to Brick House Vineyards! We have enjoyed their wine numerous times with Scott & Bobbi, so of course they were on the list of a winery to visit. They have been farming their estate organically since 1990 and have been certified Biodynamic since the mid-90’s. Brick House is a truly beautiful farm. Phillip & I talk about how beautiful it was, in it’s own rustic way. We tasted in an old barn easily over one hundred years old, on antique kilim rugs, on old chairs around a fabulous wood table. And the Pinots…so good! Enough waxing on–go taste for yourself!

La Finca Luna Nueva, A Biodynamic Farm in Costa Rica

We were just beginning our 2nd week of vacation in our “home away from home”, Costa Rica, when “farming” came beckoning. I was relaxing by the pool with a very good book but could not resist the driving urge to check out “biodynamic farms in Costa Rica” on Google, and not 15 minutes later Phillip, Bede in I were booked at La Finca Luna Nueva Lodge in the
Arenal Volcano area, in San Isidro de Penas Blanca. Luna Nueva is a Demeter certified Biodynamic/organic farm principally growing ginger & turmeric, as well as incredible tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs. They are a sanctuary: preserving their rainforests, rearing animals, growing food, offering accommodations…a place of fellowship and peace. And for us, a place of great conversations and inspiration.

We arrived, met the farmer behind Luna Nueva, Steven Farrell, and were whisked away for the next 24 hours into tours, stimulating discussions about BD farming, sharing food & wine, and exchanging ideas and thoughts for the future.

We were taken on 2 tours: a short hike through the gardens where nearly every plant, vine and tree was identified, explained as to their presence/why in the jungle and the medicinal uses for many of them. It was awesome to eat the leaves of the plants, to taste a leaf just like snap peas, smell another leaf which is the Allspice Tree, to sample water apples (a large radish-looking apple, that is, well, watery to the taste!), drink freshly squeezed pineapple juice, to eat fresh, organic fruits and vegetables…the list could go on and on!

Phillip and I are so thankful to be able to travel the world and make contacts with other farmers who enlighten us and encourage us.
We have found that to find the right path we have to start walking. Sometimes the path is not in the right direction but once on it we can correct. Phillip has been concerned about our two steers. They are so big and rambunctious that they tend to decimate very quickly wherever they are even though we’ve moved them around. A move back to a miniature milk cow and steer, or donkey, or …. along with a couple of pigs may help the situation. Another 20 acres would be useful in this regard.
La Finca Luna Nueva helped us to envision an even more diverse AmByth than we currently have. They utilize permaculture to the max. We need to proceed with additional plants around the perimeter and play with some in row plantings at some point (always a little tricky with dry farming in Paso Robles). They have 200” of rain a year, we had 9 1/8” this year. Having quoted those figures it would be easy to say “It’s impossible” but that’s not so, we have to think a little more, and experiment. Everything takes time but, we’re on the path…and we’re eager.
The wines will just get better as they have more earthly influences surrounding their birth place. And just a thought, if any of you are ever interested in visiting a BD farm with us, please let us know, we’d love to share these experiences with you and introduce you to some incredible people: people who are trying to do the right thing regarding their land, their communities and the future of both. 

Tuscany, Italy and visits in Chianti

We’ve just returned home from our 2 week vacation in Tuscany. We had awful weather (more rain there than we’ve had in 2 years!), but a great trip nonetheless. Tuscany is beautiful, and well worth the visit. The highlight of our vacation was visiting Castello dei Rampolla, a winery owned by the di Napoli Rampolla family–the estate has been owned since 1739, it is now owned by Maurizia and her brother, Luca di Napoli Rampolla. They are direct descendants to the Dukes of Savoy, so some definite history going on there. They are in the heart of the beautiful Chianti region, althought their most prestigious wine is called “Sammarco”, which is not a Sangiovese, but a Super-Tuscan, mostly made from Cabernet Savignon.
They have been Biodynamic since 1994, although they are not certified as a large percentage is taken by the Demeter Association-Europe, a shame. Mary, Bede and myself were immediately swept into the vineyard by Luca, where we spent a pleasant few hours talking about Biodynamics, variations, plants, insects, animals, philosophy of farming, and even home-schooling, art, etc. It was terrific. Of course, no visit to a winery is complete without barrel tasting and opening finished wine. They were excited and eager to hear of our zero sulfite addition and have been on the cusp of working with some ideas themselves with some wines. Also, some talk of using old products for perserving found in the bark of trees instead of the conventional sulfites. It’s great to toalk to people who want to think things through and not follow the crowd!
We enjoyed their wines and again noticed that ‘extra dimension’ that can be found in BD wines. We opened a bottle of AmByth Grenache blend (with sulfites), I was happy to notice everyone went back for more and the bottle emptied quickly, perhaps always the ultimate sign of drinkability.
We had another good visit to the Chianti house Isola de Olena. Paolo, the owner, spent the afternoon giving us a history of the region. Quite amazing, in the 60’s the workers were basically surfs to the farmers, just 50 years ago! Coincidentally, Paolo was meeting with a BD consultant the following day. He has noticed a decline in the health of his soil over the 30 years he has been farming and is very eager to do something to change this. He is worried about how conventional farming is degrading his soil to dangerous levels…
The trip was full of excellent food both at restaurants and with organic products bought at local farms (wild asparagus and artichokes in season–incredible!) and cooked at our lovely “La Poderina”, a podere-traditional Tuscan farmhouse-owned by Phillip’s sister, Penelope.
Now back to our blessed home, just in time for shoot thinning!