The Little Things…


It lurks underground. It can be abused or nurtured but it is mostly ignored. You can’t see it when you take in the view of Napa Valley, though it benefits all living things. The vines, trees, plants, grasses are better for it. The air is better for it. We are better for it.

VAM! A wonderful abbreviation for something so quietly powerful. VAM! It breaks down organic materials into nutrients. VAM! It transports those nutrients through the earth to feed the roots of plants. VAM! It attaches to roots of plants and exudes enzymes and other chemicals that make nutrients more available. VAM is vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae, an intimidatingly scientific name for fungi that live in the soil, spreading a delicate web, reaching out and penetrating the roots and cells of plants in a wonderful dance of mutualism.

The little things we do as farmers can either help nature do her job or hinder it by making her more dependent on human input. Overgrazing with heavy animals, tillage, herbicides all hinder the development of VAM. Instead of tillage, we grow cover crops that are mowed by animals that intensely graze and then are rotated out before they damage the soil, or we mechanically mow to increase organic material. Cover crops are turned back into soil and enriched with compost. This encourages the microorganisms to cycle nutrients and help build healthy soil. Healthy soil reduces the leaching and volatilization of nitrogen, sequestering carbon that, in turn, helps us all. The more we help nature do her job, the less we have to do as winemakers to make delicious wines and the less damage we do to the environment. It’s the little things that make all the difference in the world.

Rob Sinskey