There is a fantasy that winegrowing and winemaking is glamorous – that it is all just hobnobbing in a wine cave. I hate to burst your bubble but we’re just farmers that make a fancy, delicious beverage from our crops.
There are a lot of things to worry about as farmers. We are always watching the weather for frost, hail, rain, humidity, wind and heat spikes. Any of these at the wrong time could spell disaster. Then there is mildew, pestilence and bird damage. But that’s not all… labor, bureaucracy, taxes, recession and even mechanical issues with our tractors and equipment can lead to financial ruin. Of course we have always lived in the shadow of a looming earthquake but we’ve now added wildfires and power grid shutdowns to the list of potential trip wires. I never thought a pandemic would trump everything that came before.
Wine, by its very nature is social and the pandemic has changed – maybe permanently – the way we socialize. We are now cooking more at home and ordering takeout and we do it with our immediate family, housemates or with friends via video chat. If there’s a positive take, it’s that families are connecting over a fresh cooked meal and the kitchen is once again the center of our gated castle. We have relearned the joys of lifting a glass and discussing our fears and our dreams. In some ways, we will look back at the pandemic as a mixed blessing in that it gave us an opportunity to reconnect.
Nature throws a lot at farmers because nature abhors a monoculture. If something is too successful, it creates an environment where disease and pestilence can mutate or propagate unchecked by natural processes. The way to combat disease pressure naturally is to emulate the rhythms of nature and overcompensate for the destructive aspects of farming by encouraging biodiversity and to resist the temptation of overproduction by finding balance. RSV finds balance by farming the soil with cover crops, practicing low or no-tillage to encourage soil tilth and resist the use of herbicides, synthetic fertilizers or pesticides – the things that break the deal with natural processes. Then we encourage biodiversity by allowing trees to co-exist with vineyards, hedgerows between properties and beneficial insectaries. We encourage life by allowing sheep to graze the vineyards where they not only control the growth of the cover crop but leave behind waste that encourages healthy populations of microbes that break down nutrients to a form that vines can access easily. In some ways, humans have become a monoculture. Maybe we need to strike a deal with nature and overcompensate for the damage that humans do by healing an ailing earth.