The vineyard is practically vibrating with the energy of spring. We are embarking on a very ambitious goal of adding 50 species to the existing cover on the vineyard floor. I hope to achieve a diversity of perennial and annual grass, flower and (even some vegetable) species to have close to 100 species growing year-round green.
This strategy of maximizing the diversity that grows within the vineyard system is a major tenet of my philosophy of farming. We are responsible, first and foremost, for building healthy soil. To be clear, this doesn’t mean ‘not losing soil’; we mean to build soil here at Hope Well. This is the covenant we have with the land. Green plants use the sugars from photosynthesis to feed the microbial life in the soil that creates structure, breaks down minerals, fixes atmospheric Nitrogen, and build complex forms of stable Carbon from CO2, and puts it deep in the soil. This form of Carbon sequestration is only possible when the soil is left unbroken, or uncultivated and green plants are growing year-round to support the microorganisms that build the stable forms of Carbon so that it can truly be sequestered, and not lost in the cycle of decomposition that occurs when soils are continuously disturbed.
Different species of plants also support different species of insects and soil microorganisms. By increasing the diversity, we increase the number of natural ‘good’ predators, pollinators, and microbes that perform all of the most critical functions of biology. It creates stability in the system because in nature, complexity is stability.
And lastly, but certainly not ‘least’, by putting this responsibility of building soil and diversity first, the vines naturally have access to a broader suite of micronutrients that create the detail in wine. The vines also have access to a longer, and more stable water source as the plants on the floor, with their roots, hold water and store it in the deeper soil layers for later in the season. This all helps us to have a more gradual accumulation of sugars that allows for full development of flavor, which can be difficult in our warmer growing seasons. Sure, we could add water and spray foliar forms of these micronutrients, but plants evolved with soil microorganisms an elegant arrangement of ‘I feed that which feeds me’, and our best and most informed attempts to replicate that exchange are clumsy at best. Building soil: one goal, with infinite rewards.