Sunday, November 28, 2021

Regenerative Viticulture Association: Newly formed organization illustrates the importance of soil health and carbon sequestration to Spanish winegrowers

Following up on the Regenerative Viticulture Symposium he held in June of this year, Miguel Torres of Familia Torres pulled together a group of like-minded winemakers to form the Regenerative Viticulture Association. The organization was formalized on Monday, November 15, 2021. Its goals and objectives are presented in the following chart while the signatories are presented in the photograph following.

Left to right: Eduard Muixach, Partner, AgroAssessor;
Montse Catasús, Oenologist, Familia Torres; Francesc Font,
Founding Partner, AgroAssesor; Miquel Torres, CEO, Familia
Torres; Christian BArbier, Head of Viticulture, Clos Mogador;
Mireia Torres, Director, Jean Leon; and Joan Huguet, co-owner,
Can Feixes. (Source:

I will be writing about the proceedings of the July symposium in subsequent posts.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Solminer (Santa Ynez, California): Another organo-biodynamic producer adding Regenerative Organic Certified to its accomplishments

Solminer, a Santa Ynez winery helmed by the husband-and-wife team David and Anna Delaski, was the third Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) awardee and, like Tablas Creek and Troon Vineyard, had gained organic and biodynamic certification prior to embarking on this path. I chatted with Anna via Zoom to gain insight into the estate's ROC journey.

Anna and David Delaski (Source:

Anna is Austrian and, she says, has always had an interest in sustainability in the broad sense. In addition, she has always been a passionate wine drinker. She met her now husband in LA in 2009 and, while traveling around, they fell in love with Santa Barbara. They became even more enamored with the region when they discovered Gruner Veltliner, one of Austria's native grape varieties, growing in the area. 

Their travels in Santa Barbara revealed that, though French varieties dominated, the Austrian varieties that they encountered were thriving. They began to entertain the thought of making Austrian varietal wine in Santa Barbara and brought the fantasy to reality in 2012 with the purchase of a 4-acre property, 2.5 acres of which was planted to Syrah. In that their intended focus was Austrian wines, they had to purchase grapes initially to get their feet on that path. They purchased Gruner and other Austrian varieties which, when combined with the Syrah, allowed them to produce 400 cases in their first vintage.

The property had been farmed conventionally and they sought to change that by pursuing organic certification. In 2016 they bought a 7-acre horse farm which featured compacted soils. They added calcium and compost to build up the soils and planted 2 acres of Blaufrankisch and Gruner Veltliner.

Not being formally trained as winemakers, they sought to improve their winemaking skills by taking the UC Davis course Introduction to Winemaking. They were somewhat disappointed as the focus was on industrial winemaking, rather than the artisanal approach that they were pursuing.

Solminer began practicing biodynamics in 2016. They purchased some sheep and a couple of donkeys, ceased tilling, and began making their own compost. At around this time Steve Clifton became their mentor; they were much more in tune with his intuitive approach.

They are seeking to farm as an entity and minimize external inputs. For example, the use of manure as fertilizer minimizes external fertilizer purchase and transport. They initially applied their preparations to the understory of the vines using a backpack dispenser.

Anna applying preparations using a backpack dispenser

One of the keys for Solminer was creating/adding organic matter as food for the soil. Even with these efforts, however, they still experienced a drop in yield in the year after no-till was introduced. The estate was CCOF Organic certified in 2014 and Demeter Biodynamic certified in 2018.

As far as their ROC is concerned, they became interested once they found out that the owner of Patagonia was involved (they knew he was very serious about regeneration). As they looked further into the program, they realized that it covered the things that they had been doing over the last 10 years. So it was a no-brainer; especially as the ROC Administrators make it so easy to come onboard.

They met the ROC requirements at the Silver level. The Social Welfare Pillar was hardest for them because they do most of the work themselves and when they do bring on workers at harvest, they contract through a middleman. 

This is a great program, according to Anna, for a larger company seeking to make the transition from conventional farming. Solminer, she says, may be too small an entity for it.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Romans and wine: Taking a good thing and making it better

The Romans possessed an exceptional capacity for taking "good things" and making them better and, according to Professor Elizabeth Lev, this characteristic was manifested in spades in the wine world.

The Greeks were responsible for the creation of the wine culture in Italy. They named the southern portion of the peninsula Oenetria -- "the land of the tamed vines", according to Professor Lev. They also brought some of their native varieties to Italy. Aglianico, for example, is widely held to be a Greek transplant, with the Italian name being a transformation of Hellenistico (Greece was known as Hellas).

The Romans did not get involved in serious wine drinking until about the 3rd century when they developed a bread culture. Prior to this period, the main Roman dish was a porridge-like concoction called puls, which was served during cena, the main meal of the day. Adoption of bread-based meals began in the 3rd century and with it the rise of bakeries and wine drinking.

The Greeks had historically grown their grapes along the ground or trained in trees. The Romans developed the Pergola which lifted the vine off the ground, allowing greater access to the sun for all parts of the berry as well as allowing wind to dry out the vines after rainfall.

The Greeks and Egyptians had historically trod their grapes to extract the juice. The Romans adopted this practice but also added mechanical means of pressing the juice from the grapes.

The Romans  were the first to distinguish between first and subsequent pressings with the third press set aside and, in many cases, given to the slaves.

The Romans were also the first to (Professor Lev):
  • Understand vintage differential
  • Serve wine in glassware
  • Work on wine storage (both in terms of where and length).
The Romans also preferred white wines to red with Livia Augusta attributing her long life to a daily tipple of Pucinum, a forerunner to today's Prosecco.

The most famous of the Roman wines was Falernian, a sweet, high-alcohol, late-harvested wine. According to Professor Lev, this wine was made from the Aglianico grape but another source claims that it was made from Falanghina while two others give that honor to the Aminean grape. This wine was highly prized and priced. Professor Lev spoke of the Opimian vintage of 121BC which was served at a Julius Caesar banquet in 60BC.

Wines for the masses were flavored with chalk, seawater, honey, etc. The wines served to aristocrats were first boiled-down in lead-lined pots, the process concentrating the wine by 1/3 or as much as 1/2, depending on the preference. Boiling in the lead added a specific sweetness to the wine but also poisoned the drinkers. Gout and dementia are symptoms of lead consumption, conditions manifested in many of the Roman rulers of this period.

By 50AD, Romans were consuming an average of one bottle of wine per person per day. The Vesuvius eruption created a major secondary crisis in that it took out a significant portion of the Empire's best vines. This led to a panic in 79AD where folks were ripping out grain in order to plant vines. 

Unlike the Greeks, the Romans were far less interested in moderation. And this extended to their praise of the beverage. Romans loved to "talk, write, and wax poetic" about growing grapes and drinking wine. Major historical figures such as Cato, Horus, and Pliny the Elder have all contributed to the body of work from this period.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, November 19, 2021

Troon Vineyard (Applegate Valley, Oregon): Regenerative Organic Certified

Craig Camp utilized the structure imposed by the requirements for USDA and Demeter Biodynamic certifications to transform Troon Vineyard from a disease-ravaged, underperforming vineyard to one that was reborn, regenerated, rejuvenated, and recreated. But, while he was enamored with the success afforded by the application of those programs, there were some things that were of concern:
  • The USDA Organic certification, in his view, had been largely taken over by industrial organic farms
  • USDA allows hydroponic agriculture (organic without soil is a "head-scratcher" for him)
  • Many animals on organic-certified farms, while in better condition than animals residing in feed lots, do not live in humane conditions
  • He is less-than-comfortable with Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposocial side of biodynamics.
These concerns were some of the accelerants that pushed Craig to seek certification under the new Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) program. According to Craig, "Regenerative Organic Certified excites me as it incorporates all the things I find important about the Organic and Biodynamic certifications while also resolving my concerns with both" (Wine Camp). The program:
  • Includes an essential word -- Regenerative
  • Combines the restrictive nature (what you can't do) of organic certification with the proactive, probiotic nature of biodynamics, thus creating a more complex structure for rebuilding soil
  • Adds social programs as a cornerstone, bringing an important element to the certification process
  • Adds animal welfare as an important component.
Troon Vineyard was eventually awarded ROC at the Silver Level, subsequent to a Regenerative Organic Alliance assessment of its farming program as it relates to Soil Health and Land Management, Animal Welfare, and Social Welfare. The information following is gleaned from an interview with Craig Camp (Troon's GM) and Garett Long (its Director of Agriculture).

Soil Health and Land Management
Possession of Organic and Biodynamic certifications meant that Troon easily met the ROC minimum entry requirements while also simultaneously vaulting well down the road to ROC certification. Troon Vineyard regenerative-relevant practices which were not previously discussed include:
  • Agroforestry -- fruit production in the orchard block (some perennials, some annuals), trees on the farm (sycamore, oak, redwood), and incorporation of trees around the pond habitat
  • Increasing biodiversity by managing the farm to integrate wild animals. According to Garett, keeping the overall health of the ecosystem in balance will keep the pest population in check
  • Controlling invasive species -- the two big ones are Yellow Star Thistle and Foxtail Weed. They utilize animals as much as they can and set fires in some areas.
The Gold Level ROC requires no-till for vineyard floor management. Troon is moving towards no-till as quickly as they can with the major impediment being the Red Blotch virus infection of older vineyard blocks. There is some concern that no-till in the older vineyards would encourage leafhopper populations with the potential for proliferation and spread to the newer blocks (The linkage between leafhoppers and Red Blotch virus is not definitive). The approach that Troon is using in the interim is tilling every other row and mowing.

Unlike the other certification systems, ROC seeks measurement data to show that programmatic requirements are being met. Gartet pointed out that ROC requires both in-field and lab testing. For example, soil may be tested for density and texture. Baseline samples are taken from three different parts of the farm and sent to the lab for testing. The samples must include GPS coordinates and multiple sub-samples as well as a composite.

Troon Vineyard will be working on a number of initiatives going forward:
  • No-till drill
  • Integration of animals into the environment
  • Rotational grazing
  • Development of a vegetable garden
  • Increasing the number of perennials
  • Biochar
  • Moving to solar/wind power on the farm
  • Moving to electric farm vehicles
  • Sourcing wine bottles from within a 400-mile radius
  • Ceasing the use of capsules on wine bottles
  • Diam corks
Animal Welfare
Troon needs to be certified for animal welfare as it has sheep, chickens, and dogs. The requirements are much simpler, however, as the meat is not sold. The eggs are sold so the chickens have to meet all organic standards.

Social Welfare
In Craig's view, Social Welfare certifying organizations "do not know what to do with the small farm" (this sentiment, by the way, is shared by the folks at Tablas Creek). Troon Vineyard sought Fair Trade certification but they had no relevant programs (they are tuned to large-scale outfits). Troon therefore went through the ROC Silver with a specially modified program. 

The Regenerative Organic Alliance has heard the complaints in this area and is working with Equitable Food Initiative to design a program that is relevant for the small farmer.

Where Tablas Creek had run up on the living-wage rocks, Troon did not have such a problem. Everyone working at Troon is an employee and is fairly well compensated.

Craig's Thoughts on the ROC
Craig thinks that the framework can be applied to a broad range of farming philosophies and can be used either as a farming framework or to build the culture of the company. 

Craig is very interested in working to convert a broader range of people to this type of farming. To that end, he will help to provide leadership on the issue within the farming community by giving talks, hosting farm tours, and hosting farm-to-table dinners. Troon has set aside a Biodynamic area on the property to entice visitors to walk around the farm. He hopes that their actions will serve as a model for farm and agricultural producers.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Salvo Foti's Vigna Caselle (Milo, Mt. Etna): The estate and its wines

In the middle of tasting a Salvo Foti Etna Bianco Superiore I had a question and sent a quick query over to resident Mt Etna wine experts Benjamin North Spencer and Brandon Tokash. Brandon's response reminded me that while I had covered Aeris Vineyard (the Foti-Harvey joint venture) in great detail, I had not so treated the Foti-owned (and neighboring) Vigna Caselle. I rectify that oversight in this post.

A visit with Salvo was the first thing on our Saturday morning agenda so Brandon picked me up in Linguaglossa bright and early for our trip out to our meeting point at Vigna Caselle, just west of Milo.

We arrived at our destination but there were no signs of humanity. Brandon opened the gate and we drove on into the compound. We looked around, calling out all along, but raised no one. Brandon got on the phone and called Salvo and, lo and behold, they were in the vineyard across the street, half a mile away and 50 meters up.

We were in Vigna Caselle, a Salvo Foti property, while they were in Vigna Aeris, the Salvo Foti - Kevin Harvey joint venture. The two properties are separated by a street. We started out in their direction, lifting a pound of volcanic sand with each step, but an exit point from our enclosure was not readily apparent. So we placed another call to Salvo and he said ok, they would come down to us. Brandon is not a guy who can sit still, however, so he continued to poke around and eventually found a gate which provided egress. 

On our way back from Aeris, Brandon, Salvo's son Simone, Linda and I walked back through Vigna Caselle on our way to the Palmento for our tasting.

This vineyard, as explained by Salvo, lies between the mountain and the sea and the warm air from the latter meets with the cold air from the former over Milo with the result being significant rainfall (average 1500mm/year) over the entire growing area. In addition to the rain, growers have to contend with year-round winds which can attain speeds of as much as 50 miles/hour.

There are beneficial aspects to the winds however. Moisture dries out rapidly, keeping vine diseases at bay. As a result, the vineyard makes it through the growing season with only sulfur and copper sprays. In addition, the sea and wind combine to imbue the Carricante grown on this side of the mountain with a saltiness that is not evident in Carricantes grown on the north face.

The soil is sandy and of volcanic origin with a substantial portion of ripiddu (lapilli and eruptive pumice) intermixed with red soils from the Sahara Desert deposited here by the aforementioned winds. The sandy soils drain rapidly, forcing the roots to dig deep in search of moisture and nutrients. 

The characteristics of the vineyard are illustrated in the chart below.

The Wines
As regards production, all three of the estate's wines undergo direct pressing of the whole grapes with static and natural decantation of the must for 30 hours. The Palmento Caselle and Aurora are both fermented in stainless teel stanks for 15 to 20 days while the VignadiMilo is fermented for 13 to 15 days in 2500L wooden barrels. Native yeasts are added to facilitate fermentation. The wines are aged in fermentation-similar vessels, 6 moths for the stainless steel cadre, 12 months for the VignadiMilo. The Palmento Caselle and VignadiMilo are racked five times while the Aurora is racked three times. Small doses of sulfur are added at fermentation and bottling

I have tasted all three of the wines produced at this estate: two during the course of a visit there, and the third much more recently. For the visit, the tasting group was comprised of Salvo, his son Simone, Brandon Tokash, Lidia Rizzo, a visiting female winemaker, and the author.

Salvo Foti and Author (Picture credit Lidia Rizzo)

Simone, Salvo, Lidia, Brandon, and the
visiting winemaker (L to R)

We started out with a 2014 Aurora Etna Bianco Superiore, a blend of 90% Carricante and 10% Minella. Slate, salinity, and eye-popping acidity. Salvo mentioned that this bottle had been opened for a week and offered to open a new one for comparison purposes. We did not object. The new bottle exhibited the same characteristics but with greater freshness.

VignadiMilo 2014 was matured for one year in stainless steel and then racked into large wooden barrels for further refinement. This wine was fresh to go along with a salinity and slatey minerality.

I tasted two bottles of the 2016 Palmento Caselle during the course of this week. The first was oxidized but the second was sublime. Elegance on both the nose and palate. Lime, herbs, salinity, and pepper spice on the nose. Faded lime and a butterfly presence on the palate. A whisper of a wine. Salinity and acidity present but muted. Slightly bitter finish. Even more haunting on the second day.

Great wines. I expect no less from Salvo Foti.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Troon Vineyard (Applegate Valley AVA, Oregon): The road to the Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) door

As was the case for the first winery to attain Regenerative Organic certification -- Tablas Creek -- Troon Vineyard, the second winery to claim that honor, is organic- and biodynamic-certified and is focused on wines made from Rhone varieties. Their life experiences, however, have been markedly different. As a precursor to discussing Troon's experience with the Regenerative Organic certification process, I describe herein the trodden path. Information sources for this blog post are an interview conducted with Craig Camp, the enterprise General Manager, and Garett Long, its Director of Agriculture, as well as Craig's elevated musings in his blog Wine Camp.

I have known Craig for many a year now, having first met him at the 2012 Oregon Wine Bloggers Conference and then interacting with him at several subsequent industry events and through his sojourn as General Manager of Cornerstone Winery. Craig is a warm, giving, insightful, cerebral observer of the wine scene who uses social media to great effect. Craig's focus on soil quality and healthful wines have been driving forces all along his career, with organic, biodynamic, and regenerative certifications at Troon Vineyards the proof in the pudding. 

Troon Vineyard is located in the Applegate Valley AVA, a location whose modern history begins in 1972 with Dick Troon's planting of the forerunner of today's estate. The AVA designation was awarded in 2000. The AVAs locale is shown in the chart below.

High-Level view of Troon Vineyards

According to Craig, Troon was an old-school farm with great unrealized potential. Dick eventually sold the farm to the Martin Family and, somewhere along the way it was divided, into the East and West Ranches (separate owners) with the winery attached to the West Ranch. Craig left Napa to manage the ranch and winery.

The initial plan was for Craig to whip the enterprise into shape in preparation for a sale but he saw the potential and initiated a plan to rejuvenate the soils by "going cold turkey" for organic certification. The then owner was not interested in extensive efforts to upgrade the vineyard and it was not until the property was bought by the Whites, and reunited with the previously hived-off portion, that Craig got a sympathetic ear, and the associated investment, to begin rehabilitation of the lands. And Biodynamic farming, according to Craig, provided the framework for moving the vineyard forward.

Writing in his blog, Craig noted that he was drawn to biodynamics for two reasons:
First, I had tasted too many excellent wines made biodynamically and I aspired to make wines with that kind of life and energy. I wanted to make better wine and was convinced this was the way to achieve that goal. Second, was the focus in biodynamics on rebuilding soil microbiome through a proactive series of probiotic applications based around compost, compost teas and other fermented applications. I believed that the tenets of biodynamics created an ideal framework to rebuild our soils and indeed they did at Troon Vineyard. As with almost every biodynamic winegrower I know, I was drawn to the regenerative farming concepts of biodynamics, but was less comfortable with Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposocial side of biodynamics.
The steps taken along the biodynamic path are laid out in the following chart.

The compost program has an area 1 acre in size devoted to it and will eventually host four piles. The organic manure is obtained from neighboring Noble Family Organic Dairy while the organic hay is obtained from another neighbor.

The investments from the owners were necessary to set Troon Vineyard on its current path but Craig also highlights the addition of Nate Wall (Winemaker), Andrew Breedy (Biodynamic Consultant), and Jason Cole (Viticultural Consultant). More recently Garett Long has been added as Director of Agriculture with responsibility for the Farming, Biodynamic, and Regenerative programs.

Given the diseased nature of the vineyard, Craig had determined that a complete replant was in order. The plan, and its implementation are shown in the chart below. They are currently 2/3 of the way to completion but the soil revitalization effort has been so successful that even the remaining diseased vines are producing high-quality fruit.

In terms of vineyard floor management, Troon is moving towards no-till as quickly as they can with the major impediment being the Red Blotch virus in place in the older vineyard blocks. There is some concern that no-till in the older vineyards would encourage leafhopper populations with the potential for their proliferation and spread to the newer blocks (The linkage between leafhoppers and Red Blotch virus is not definitive but ... why take the chance). The approach that Troon is using in the interim is tilling every other row and mowing.

In Craig's view, and as demonstrated in his writings, he was practicing Regenerative agriculture. And then along came this program with that exact title -- Regenerative Organic Certified. His interest was more than piqued.
"The Regenerative Organic Certification excites me as it incorporates all the things I find important about the Organic and Biodynamic Certifications while also resolving my concerns with both." So said Craig in his blog and we will explore this topic further in an upcoming post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Agroforestry's potential impacts in vineyard integrated pest management efforts

In her 2021 Master's Thesis, Katherine Favor stipulated that "Agroforestry can benefit vineyards in many ways, both in terms of the above- and below-ground services that it provides to vineyard ecosystems. Agroforestry has been shown to affect below-ground parameters in vineyards positively by increasing drought resistance, reducing erosion, building organic matter, bettering soil structure, and improving vine rooting capability" and above-ground parameters by "... reducing pest and disease pressure, preventing wind damage and erosion, increasing stomatal aperture and leaf area, protecting against heat stress, and protecting against frost."

I have previously explored the aforementioned  below-ground services (water parameters, nutritional parameters, and grapevine rooting patterns) and now turn my attention to the above-ground services, beginning with pest and disease pressure.

Favor posits increasing vineyard pest and disease pressure (see below) and a significant role 

for agroforestry in combating the threat. Trees in the vineyard, she says, have the potential to reduce wind speeds (with impacts on insect, viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogen pressure), increase associated biodiversity (reducing dependence on chemical pesticides), and facilitating precision pesticide applications.

Improved Management of Insect Pests
As it relates to management of pests, many studies have shown that locating vineyards in close proximity to surrounding woody vegetation (surrounding biodiversity) or incorporating trees into vineyards (planned biodiversity) significantly reduces insect pest pressure. Agroforestry can also promote insect control through the provision of habitats for insectivorous animals such as bats.

The above benefits are offset somewhat by studies which show that windbreaks can increase the concentration of pest insects in downwind areas (flying insects prefer to settle in areas where wind speeds are lower than their flight speeds) but, overall, "the benefits of incorporating trees appear to outweigh their disadvantages" (Favor).

Viruses and Bacteria
There are 70 known virus species and three major bacterial diseases that can affect grapevines; and many of these are spread by insect vectors. There are no specific studies related to the impact of agroforestry systems on viruses and bacteria.

Improved Management Of Fungal Diseases
Fungal infections in vineyards is largely dependent on light, temperature, and humidity, factors which can all be modified by the presence of trees (Favor). For example, tree shade can reduce both the amount of heat and UV light reaching grapevines, with the potential for increased fungal development. No specific studies have been done in this area, however.

Powdery mildew is inhibited by high light intensity and enhanced under shade conditions; intercropping vines with trees, then, potentially increases the risk of powdery mildew infection. The potential for powdery mildew reduces with decreasing vigor of the vine, a situation that would occur if the vines and trees were in competition for resources.

Precision Pesticide Application
Windbreaks have been shown to reduce pesticide drift by between 80 and 90%, allowing for more precise timing of pesticide application at optimal levels even in the case of adverse wind speeds.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme