Archive for February, 2012

Balance of indigenous wildlife = a thriving vineyard

February 26th, 2012 by Nicolette Bailey

As we discussed in our previous blog, biodynamic farming is all about nurturing a balance of all life forms on and around the farm. That balance includes all life forms from the soil to the insects to the plants to the animals that coexist on the farm. The more indigenous all these life forms are the more they will thrive and “naturally” balance life on the farm.

And as in all life forms, the more they are in balance, the healthier and more sustainable they will be.

So what does that look like on a practical basis? Let’s take an example of plants:

Every plant takes certain nutrients from the soil and puts others back in. It makes sense that if a farm consisted of only one plant, year after year, certain nutrients would continue to be taken out, depleting the soil; and, other nutrients would continue to go into the soil, putting the soil out of balance.

Corn production in Iowa is a good example of such an imbalance. Prior to chemical production farming, farmers learned over centuries that if they rotated crops each year and planted different crops in adjacent fields, that, over time, that variety of plant life would help maintain a more balanced (and healthier) soil.

Likewise with insects. People often ask if we, in Oregon, have the same problem with certain insects in the vineyard that California has. The answer is for the most part no.

California wine regions tend to be very overly populated with vineyards and not much other agriculture. As a result, two things happen; 1. Good insects indigenous to the area lose their natural habitat and leave, while 2. The bad insects find a plethora of susceptible habitat and now natural enemies. So the bad insects have a free for all.

In Oregon, our density of vineyards is much less and our agricultural diversity is much higher, both help in keeping the environment more in balance.

Does this balance of indigenous wildlife impact the end product? We believe it does.

“Biodynamics” – A simple explanation. Or is it?

February 25th, 2012 by Nicolette Bailey

The basis for biodynamics is centered around the science of alchemy. Alchemy, like chemistry and physics, explains how nature lives and works. Alchemy does not try to break things down into simple formulas or elements as science does, but looks at how all life forms and actions are interdependent on one another. This is similar to the holistic view of eastern medicine, naturopaths, and the agriculture oriented Farmer’s Almanac. Alchemy is not just about a philosophical way of life or about turning iron into gold. It is a much larger and broader science.

So what does all this mean as it applies to growing wine grapes (or any agricultural products)? It means that as we determine our farming practices, we look at all aspects of nature and how they interact with each other.

Some examples would be:

Viewing the grapevine and its interaction with the soil. Regardless of the nutrients in the soil, if the roots of the grapevines are not interfacing properly with the soil, the plants cannot utilize those nutrients.

Viewing the health of the grapevine. That health includes the nutrients it has, how efficiently they are being utilized, the immune system, it’s growth cycle, and the cycle of nature surrounding it.

Viewing the farm or environment as an entire entity. Having diverse plants around the vineyard to provide nutrients to the soil and as shelter for good insects and other life forms. Those good insects and other life forms keep everything in balance and keep unwanted pests from overtaking the vineyard.

Viewing the cycles of the solar system. Just as the Farmer’s Almanac tells us when the best time is to plant potatoes, understanding the location/cycles in our solar system helps us understand what stage life forms are in, whether it is a nutrient absorbing cycle of a grapevine or a busy time for bees.

So another, more simple, description of biodynamics is: Practicing in harmony with all of nature.

What do you think of this description of biodynamics? Simple enough? Is it easy to see how it affects the wine in your glass? Or do you think it could be broken down even more?

Healthy dirt, happy winemaker!

February 18th, 2012 by Nicolette Bailey

As a practitioner of organic, sustainable farming practices, we view the concept of sustainability more holistically. To us sustainability includes a healthy environment, healthy plant life, healthy animal and insect life, healthy environment for our children, a healthy Inn hospitality, and a healthy balance sheet.

For those of us who are producing a product or service using sustainable measures, we are doing so because we believe it is the RIGHT thing to do. There are environmental reasons that drive our choices, not financial ones. Most recognize that making these better choices has an added cost associated with them. We are willing to pay this extra cost because we believe it is the right thing to do. Most of us do not do it as a marketing tool to sell more or at a higher price, even with it costing more to produce.

However, marketing research on retail and consumer preferences suggest a different story. Most retailers DO charge more for sustainable products because they are also trying to provide a sustainable service to be able to provide those products. That has become a successful approach for food retailers like Whole Foods and Wild Oats. Consumers know going into those stores that they are going to pay more for a better product and better service.

Youngberg Hill Wines: Perfectly paired with salmon

February 18th, 2012 by Nicolette Bailey


These days we all hear expressions like ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’, and ‘salmon safe’ used more and more often, but what do they really mean?

In Oregon, as in other states, these terms all signify a level of certification one must earn in order to use them in affiliation with a vineyard, farm, or other endeavor.  These terms carry a lot of weight because of the work involved in earning and keeping them, and should not be used frivolously.

Youngberg Hill farms organically and we are certified LIVE.  This means that we are recognized to have fully organic and earth-friendly practices from harvest to market, including pest control, crop gathering, and grape processing.

When you see the insignia for Oregon Sustainable, you can trust that a bottle of wine marked as such was produced using responsible agricultural and wine-making practices.  This is also a responsibility we take seriously at Youngberg Hill, because the earth stands to benefit or suffer from our choices.

Because we are in the Pacific Northwest, we have an additional responsibility to one of our greatest resources, wild salmon.  Salmon Safe is another certification we hold at Youngberg Hill.  We were certified Salmon Safe in 2005 after completing a long and rigorous examination to make sure that all farming activity that influences water, both above and below ground, did not cause harm to salmon or their environment.

Salmon are a valued natural resource of our area; therefore, we have an innate desire to preserve them and their natural habitats.

But in many ways, this certification is much bigger and broader than salmon. By following the practices and restrictions laid out in the Salmon Safe certification, we are protecting what is even a more valuable resource – WATER.

When we view holistically what actions we take to qualify for Salmon Safe certification, we are really acting in a way that protects everything that is associated with the natural resource of water. And when we protect that natural resource, we are protecting every life form that depends on water, including us.

We must provide and protect a natural and safe source of water for ourselves and all life forms.

Anything that pollutes our water resource puts all in jeopardy.  This not only pertains to industrial processes, but also sod farms, rose beds, golf courses, vegetable gardens, lawn services and so on.  All hazardous chemicals currently being sprayed on lawns, crops, Christmas trees, hazelnut orchards, and grass seed fields are not only killing our soils, but are also leaching into our natural water resource and poisoning it.

It is up to all of us to pay better attention, and homage, to mother nature. 
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.  ~John Muir


Beautiful Dirt! (Part 2)

February 12th, 2012 by Nicolette Bailey

To a farmer, dirt is beautiful.

The smell, texture and look of the vineyard soil at Youngberg Hill is simply beautiful.        But as beautiful as it is, there is sometimes the need to fertilize the soil. To do it organically, we use compost materials. You can buy compost or even ‘certified organic material’, but I am somewhat skeptical of certifications. So we decided to start developing our own compost at Youngberg Hill. This requires diligent animals. We board horses during the summer on our pasture, but horses do not leave the most beneficial manure. Cows do!

We could have gone to an auction and picked up a couple of feeders, but that would have been too easy and not nearly as entertaining. And we wanted to find a more unique and engaging breed.

We discovered that several of our vineyard-owning friends raise Scottish Highland cattle. This breed is very distinctive, docile, comfortable around people, and cute. Our friends Jill and Brian O’Donnell, who own Belle Pente, had a young female that they were willing to part with.

On the day we had scheduled to pick her up, Brian informed me that they had not yet separated her from her mother. This was going to be interesting. When we arrived with our trailer, she was frightened and angry about the impending relocation. Keep in mind this young female weighed about 800 pounds. As we were coaxing her into the trailer, she bolted, almost tore a hole in a nearby car with her horn, and drug me about 30 feet before she stopped and noticed her “cargo.” My butt still hurts.

Since that day this cow has found Youngberg Hill to be a happy home and is thought to be as lovable as a lapdog by all who come up to visit. She is a rare beauty and a great listener!

Beautiful Dirt!

February 11th, 2012 by Nicolette Bailey

Organic farming is the practice of not applying any inorganic material to the plants or soil. As a consumer, we focus on the benefits of consuming organic products. But there are equally important benefits to the plants, the soil, and the farmers themselves.

Each year since 2003, when Youngberg Hill started farming organically, we have seen the grape vines become healthier. The canopy is easier to manage, the vines maintain through the season better, they respond better to pruning and cropping, and they resist pests and mildew more vigorously. Organic farming allows the vines to do what they naturally know to do. They do not stress as much (except in a natural way during ripening, which is when they need to stress a little.)  As a result, the fruit that is produced is richer, more flavorful, and of a higher quality. That higher quality includes a higher nutritional value.

As part of our overarching desire to farm responsibly and reduce our carbon footprint here at Youngberg Hill, we consider our organic fertilization and soil replenishment an opportunity to reduce our impact on nature.  And Beauty is pretty proud of her role as well!

The next time you come and visit us, be sure to stop and visit the cows, and become a part of the organic cycle that is Youngberg Hill.

Seriously Organic Vineyard Birds (Part 2 of 2)

February 4th, 2012 by Nicolette Bailey

In my last blog I made you aware of some serious issues regarding the harm non native starlings are causing vineyard and local ecosystem.  As both the winemaker and steward of this land, I have witnessed the damage that the Starlings can do.

There are several methods to try to deter these hungry migrants; firing propane cannons, hire-a-hawk and vine netting are common anti Starling practices here in the valley.  Youngberg Hill has traditionally favored a more natural approach by playing recordings of Starlings in distress and predatory raptor calls as a deterrent.

In 2010 the invasive flocks devoured over 30% of our organic crop.  After working so hard to nurture the vines all year this was a devastating loss.  As a sustainable grape grower, our primary goals is to farm in a harmonious way with the true native species of plants and wildlife that make up our hillside habitat.

We are always looking for more natural solutions, and in the coming weeks I’ll be asking friends of both Oregon native birds and Youngberg Hill wines to for some special help.  For some of these solutions we will need your help on actual ecostytem enhancement projects at Youngberg Hill.  For others we will be asking you to make helpful Starling deterring choices for your own backyard habitats.

Together we can work to rebuild our native bird populations and start at restoring a natural balance.

Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Seriously Organic Vineyard Birds (Part 1 of 2)

February 3rd, 2012 by Nicolette Bailey

The coming of spring has us thinking about nature and our relationship with the local vineyard wildlife at Youngberg Hill and how that fits into our Seriously Organic point of view.  Working in and around the vineyard each day, we see many of the bird species that are native to the Willamette Valley.

We often catch glimpses of the Bald Eagle family that resides in the woods along the vineyard’s edge, and each time I see them I am reminded that there is a natural order to the foothills’ ecology.  Other common sights are Great Horned Owls, Red Tailed Hawks and Kestrels.  These raptors are the vanguard of nature’s balance, and not only enrich our lives with their beauty but also play an important role in reducing the damage done each year to our organic grape crop by preying on non-native Starlings.

European Starlings were first introduced in North America in the late 1800s by well-meaning immigrants who sought to bring with them the familiar sights of their homeland.  What started as an innocent release of a small flock into Central Park has now grown to a population of nearly two hundred million nationwide.  This explosive population growth now causes serious crop losses for both Oregon vineyards and of even greater concern is the Starlings’ disastrous effect on native bird populations.  Regional wildlife scientists are unanimous in their conclusions that the European Starling invasion is taking a dramatic toll on native Oregon birds such as the Western Bluebird, Crested Woodpecker, Northern Flicker and Cassin’s Finch.

This spring I’d like to explore this problem with you and also will be asking for your help in coming up with some solutions that will both help our local bird population and help us keep more of the grapes we work so hard to grow at Youngberg Hill.

Be sure to Like, Comment, and Share this with your friends – and stay tuned for part two.