I live on a quiet road in the heart of the Napa Valley, surrounded by vineyards. My yard is bright green with all this winter rain and the recently pruned vineyards are clean, crisp and beautiful. The view is stunning. Though, I came home one day last week to bright yellow stripes throughout the vineyards – a sure sign that Round-up was sprayed to control weed growth at the base of the vines. I couldn’t help but feel disappointment and concern. Is the air and the dirt contaminated? Will these chemicals reach our drinking water? Will I track these pesticides into my home on the soles of my shoes?
Prior to my time at Clif Family Winery, I had never worked with organically farmed grapes. There was always an interest, but the added costs and associated risks to the crop were inhibiting factors. When I joined the Clif team, I was interested and exited to begin to understand what it meant to farm grapes organically. (All three of the Clif Family Winery Estate vineyards, as well as the Farm, are CCOF certified.) With one season under my belt, I have a much broader perspective on the topic and a fond appreciation for these sustainable practices.
What does it mean to farm organically? In the most simple terms, our grapes are grown on soils that are free of prohibited substances, such as synthetic pesticides, ensuring our fruit is not contaminated. In the vineyard, we use only CCOF approved applications for mildew control, we dig up weeds rather than kill them with chemicals, and we release predatory mites to control damaging mite populations. These practices do cost more, due to higher priced products and labor intensive processes. The results – our dirt and grapes will be free of toxic pesticides, keeping you, our farm workers and our neighbors healthy.
So, after a year of working under these new, healthier and more environmentally friendly conditions, I am now a huge proponent of organic farming and organic eating. At the grocery store, I will now choose the $6 box of organic raspberries over the $4 box of non-organic. And, when I look out the window at the conventionally farmed vineyards that surround me, I know that as a community, we can do better.