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Organics 101 Graphic
Organics 101 From the Garden From the Garden
   
 
 
Organics 101 Graphic
 
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The first question almost everyone asks when they find out that Frog's Leap grows all its grapes organically is: "What does that mean you can't do?" It's not really their fault - many of us have been conditioned to accept that "organically grown" means compromise. In return for healthy fruit we give up appearance, cost and convenience. But at Frog's Leap, we emphatically believe that premise needs to be re-examined. Indeed, we believe that organic growing is all about what you can do and that when it comes to taste and affordability of our wines anything less than organically grown is a compromise.
I am fond of using the example of my own health as a metaphor for healthy wine growing. I believe that growing a healthy vine organically is much like taking care of your personal health.
Experience has taught me that having a balanced and nutritious diet, getting regular exercise and burning the candle at one end instead of two contributes to good personal health in a way that modern medicine could not even begin to duplicate. The same holds true with the grapevine. Organic growers say, "a healthy soil produces a healthy vine" that resists disease and pests. By returning cover crops and compost to the soil the soil remains alive and through its incredibly complex microbial world produces nutrients for the plant and soil structure.
  Cover Crops Photo   Cover Crops
By caring for our soils, building their organic fabric using composts and cover crops, the soil literally comes alive. The earth is well-prepared to provide nutrients and minerals in a balanced diet to the vines.
  Tilling the Soil Photo   Tilling the Soil
Once turned through the soil, cover crops such as Purple Vetch, oats, Austrian Winter Pea, contribute to the balanced growth of our grapes vines.
Modern grape growing on the other hand minimizes the use of soil. With the use of herbicides the farmer eliminates the "weeds" from his rows inadvertently killing the microbial world of the soil. With the soil thus unable to provide nutrients and the structure necessary to retain moisture, the farmer is required to compensate with fertilizer and irrigation. But dripping fertilizer and water to your vines is a little like feeding your kids on cokes and candy bars - the initial energy response may be impressive but the long-term results are less than encouraging. A poorly nourished vine is almost always the one with health problems.
  Healthy Soil Photo   Healthy Soil
Healthy soil means
healthy vines.
  Nitrogen Nodule   Nitrogen Nodule
Nitrogen nodule from vetch - a powerhouse of nutrients
In our own lives, we know that just being physically fit does not in itself guarantee overall health. You can work out day and night but if you're homeless, jobless, and your air and water are polluted your prospects for health is dismal. Thus with the vine. Do your farm workers have housing and healthcare? Are you using too much diesel fuel in your tractors? Are you contaminating the ground water? In short - if the environment of farming around the vine is not healthy, it will be difficult to maintain a healthy productive vineyard. This is the concept of sustainable farming. Reduce, reuse, recycle, renew, retain, and revere - mantras at Frog's Leap.
I sometimes think of my own health and the health of a vineyard as a three-legged pot. If personal health or organic growing is one leg and environmental health or sustainable farming is the second - what is the third? In our lives we know that to be truly healthy and happy we must eventually consider our spiritual health. Believe it or not this is also true of plants and indeed all-living organisms. Grapevines exist in a natural living stream that reflects from deep in their soil to the cosmos above. Biodynamic farming, based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, is one of the ways we are studying at Frog's Leap to learn more about the natural spiritual world of the living systems around us. Drawing on elements of homeopathy, using the natural cycles of the moon and planetary alignments and immersing ourselves in the deeper understanding of the farm as a living system can all lead to healthier vineyards. A pot that stands firmly on three legs.

There are many reasons to incorporate the farming methods we collectively call "traditional farming" into the way we do business at Frog's Leap. But by far the most important and most exciting to us is reflected in one word - quality. In the Tao it says "what is rooted is easy to nourish". We know that what is well nourished is also more flavorful, better balanced, and longer lived. Wine made from fruit that is more flavorful, better balanced and longer lived is exactly the same - wines that are deeply reflective of the soil and climate from where they come. Something to think about with your next glass.

Grapes Graphic
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Helpers in Organic Farming Graphics
  Mustard Photo   Mustard (Brassia spp)
This non-legume voluntarily arrives in the Napa Valley in late January through February. Having a tremendous root system, it opens up the soil to receive nutrients and water.
  Birdboxes Photo   Birdboxes
With respect to the birdhouse, commercial
farmers think the only good bird is a dead bird but, in fact many birds, such as the bluebirds who live in this house, feed on leaf hoppers and aphids that can harm grapevines.
  Owls Photo   Owls
In the vineyards, we place bird houses and housing for owls and hawks who feast on the gophers who can destroy the grapes vines -- check out these chicks!
  Sunflowers Photo   Sunflowers
The challenge in organic growing is building bio-diversity into our farming system in an area where monoculture is the rule. Sunflowers are helpful in attracting beneficial insects. They build life into the farm as well as into the gardens.
  Purple Vetch Photo   Purple Vetch (Vicia
atropurpurea) legume

Vetches have been grown to create a habitat for beneficial insects as well as being a great nitrogen fixer for the soil.
  Crimson Clover Photo   Crimson Clover (Trifolium
Incarnatum) legume

Planting a cover crop like crimson clover along the avenues of the vineyard gives us a beautiful bloom to walk through which also attracts beneficial insects. But more importantly, the roots of this crop (using marvelous fellows called rhizobium bacteria) are working to fix nitrogen in the soil.
  Austrian Winter Pea Photo   Austrian Winter Pea
(Pisum Arvense) legume

This ground-hugging pea acts as a habitat for beneficial insects. It is also great nitrogen fixer for the soil. We love to pick the peas and add them to our spring salads!
  Oats Photo   Oats (Avena sativa) grain
Oats act as a great soil builder and also provide a structure on which the vetch can climb. Oats, too, impart organic matter to the soil when turned in.




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