Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Biodynamic Vineyards & Farming


Harvest time in the Meunier block. JRH grows 22 acres of grapes. Varieties that perform well in our setting: Pinot noir, Meunier, Chardonnay, Riesling, Foch, Vignoles, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc (some years).

Western Colorado’s dry climate is well suited for organic and biodynamic farming. Jack Rabbit Hill has been USDA-certified organic since it’s first planting in 2000. In 2006 we began using Biodynamic practices with the help of Demeter USA and Josephine Porter Institute. In June 2008 we completed our Demeter Biodynamic® certification.

Why biodynamic? The Biodynamic standard helps us use the farm’s own natural assets to grow better, more expressive fruit with a lighter footprint than conventional or other organic standards. Today our compost needs are about 30% what they were back in 2004, our soil quality is better, more biological activity in our vineyards, and we understand much better the importance of livestock and wildlife habitat to our farming.

Ripe Pinot noir with brown stems from the Upper West Side Block is perfect for whole-cluster fermentations, which add complexity to our wines.

In 2004 we produced/turned/spread about 150 tons of compost at a rate of 10 tons/acre. That means we needed about 300 tons of raw manure to end up wirh half as much compost! And since our compost was made from off-farm inputs (60% dairy manure, 30% apple pressings, 10% wood chips), needless to say we began to feel more than a pinch from the costs of transporting and spreading all this material. Yes, it was organic, but it wasn’t sustainable!

In our search for a better way we stumbled on Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian scientist and philosopher who elaborated on principles and practices of biodynamic farming in the early 1920s. We also read Alex Podolinsky one of the early, large-scale biodynamic farmers in Australia, and Nicolas Joly, the french winegrower. Their experiences really struck a cord with us, showing how we could develop healthier, balance soils with fewer off-farm inputs, using a set of nine herb and compost teas known as the biodynamic preparations.

Jim Fulmer and the Demeter crew have been invaluable to our farm. Here he's examining our soils, always shovel in hand!

In early 2006 we contacted and visited some very successful estate wineries who were Demeter-certified biodynamic. We were very, very surprised by what we saw. In a world where  hype, sensationalism and green washing are standard practice it was really refreshing to find a community of winegrowers so passionate about making authentic terroir wines from the ground up, with a real, hands-on commitment to low-input farming and land stewardship. Growers like Ivo Jeremez and Katrina Frey who generously shared their farms and experiences with us. What inspiration! So we came back and in Spring 2006 we signed up with Demeter USA to help us implement biodynamic farming at Jack Rabbit Hill. And we continue to see improvements in our farm, in the living soils, the animals, color of the vines, and the expressiveness of the wines.