Here are the Top Eco-Friendly Farming Practices at Featherstone
Respect for the land is at the heart of making wine that is true to its soil and its site. In the give-and-take relationship between living soil organisms and plants, nutrients and minerals are exchanged and transformed. In a mutually beneficial circle, the soil nourishes the vine and Featherstone’s farming practices nurture the soil.
1. The dirt on dirt.
We are as concerned with what we can’t see as with what we can. Soil structure affects the ability of water to drain and of vines to root deeply. At Featherstone we have soils that range from very fine clay to gravel and we want to encourage deep- rooting vines as they are more drought-resistant and they will draw greater minerality and flavour into the grapes.
Soil teems with life on both a bacterial and fungal level. In a vineyard, it is the fungal life that is paramount and so we avoid spraying herbicides as much as possible, and we use a grape hoe to mechanically remove weeds.
2. Cover it up
Cover crops are planted between each row of grapes, leaving no soil exposed to erode by wind or water and reducing the opportunity for invasive weed seeds to blow in and establish themselves. These inter-row, planted crops are called ‘cover crops’ and we use the following mix: Legumes 25%, Brassica 25%, Rye grass 50 %.
Legumes: Whereas most plants consume nitrogen, legumes return or ‘fix’ nitrogen. Their roots contain swellings, or nodes, that make nitrogen available to the vines. Reduce the need for the addition of chemical fertilizers.
Brassica: Includes mustard and oil-seed radish. They have a soil fumigant effect. Effective against soil parasites (nematodes) and help to promote soil fungal growth.
Rye grass: These grasses grow all season and are mowed occasionally in summer. Clippings are left to return organic matter to the soil. The grasses compete with the vine for ground moisture, encouraging the vines to root deeply.
3. Leaf it alone
Above ground, we use a number of organic compounds to control mould and mildew on the vine leaf and grape clusters most notably elemental copper and sulphur.
4. Bugs don’t bug us
Featherstone has been insecticide-free since 1999 and we have a number of tricks in our bag to deal with small critters that want to eat our vines. A particular favourite in our arsenal is diatomaceous earth (DE). DE is essentially a big organic molecule with lots of rough edges and this makes it abrasive and irritating to the plates and armour of an insect’s external skeleton. We don’t actually kill our bugs, we just piss them off and they leave.
We also bring in beneficial predatory insects, ie lacewings and indigenous ladybugs, to eat the bad guys, like aphids. Ladybugs or Ladybird beetles, bless their little hearts, are carnivorous at every stage of their life cycle and are born wanting to eat sap-sucking aphids and mites. You go girl!
Pheromones which disturb the mating cycles of the grape berry moth (GBM) are also tremendously effective. The males are attracted to fake perfume clouds that are distributed throughout the vineyard and these ‘clouds’ smell just like really hot female GBM’s. While the boys are out messing around with the decoys, the female GBM’s sit at home alone and lay infertile eggs.
5. Switching to a recycle sprayer
Perhaps the most significant and eco-friendly thing that we have done was to buy a new sprayer. Please understand that ALL farmers spray their grapes – even if the farmer is certified organic, biodynamic or just a garden variety, old-school supporter of Monsanto. Everybody sprays, the difference between farmers is what they put in the sprayer’s tank.
In 2008, we bought a Recycle Sprayer which captures and re-uses any spray that doesn’t adhere to the vine. With this system, there is no spray drift and no broadcast of spray into the environment. The alternative style of the sprayer is an air-blast model that propels water and spray chemical into the vines and the air at great pressure.
After switching from an air-blast sprayer to a recycle sprayer, the reduction that we have seen in the volume of spray needed in the vineyard has been shocking. These sprayers don’t come cheap and its purchase was partially subsidized by our Environmental Farm Plan. This is a provincial government initiative to encourage farmers to invest in more environmentally friendly practices and equipment.