There is an old wine making adage that you can make bad wine from great grapes, but you cannot make a great wine from bad grapes. It is the foundation of quality. It is the place we start with all our wines and the place that gets the most investment and planning. We put our vineyard first. We planted the vineyard a full decade before we built the actual winery. This is why our company is named Carlson Creek Vineyard, and not Carlson Creek Winery or Carlson Creek Cellars. A healthy vineyard makes healthy wines.
When we started the vineyard it was just my brother and I managing it. Our whole family had helped plant the original vines, an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. During those early years we were the ones in the vine rows everyday, dealing with weeds, snakes, and the ill effects of weather. We were not interested in buying chemicals that might affect us. Anything we sprayed would be on our hands and in our lungs. We chose to use organic products for our own health years before we had to consider the consumer’s preferences. We continued this line of thought as we began to add employees. Their and our safety was and is a priority.
To this end we only use products that have a zero day pre-harvest interval. A pre-harvest interval is the amount of time a farmer has to wait to harvest the crop to be safe for human consumption. We use products that could have someone working out in the vines the same day. Though generally we still wait 24 hours to send anyone back into the vineyard. Our preference for organic products does increase our costs, but we feel they are worth the expense.
Chemical herbicides are a prime example of what we were trying to avoid. We tested several alternatives, even propane torches. One year we had weeds that were as tall as the vines. That did make harvest a bit difficult as you can imagine. But ultimately we went with an old age solution, a plow. A French plow to be specific. We mounted the plow to the side of our tractor on a swing arm so that we could plow under the vines and retract it to miss each vine. No chemicals, no spraying, no concerns on the health of our staff or the vines. Plus I do not have to pay for the chemicals each year. A win-win situation.
Some chemicals we took a hard stand on years ago. We do not poison the rodent population of our vineyard, a common practice. Our concern was the degradation of the food chain. That these poisons would work their way up into larger animals killing them as well. This ends up being counterproductive because killing the predators would ultimately increase the rodent population. Instead of endangering their natural predators we encouraged them by installing owl barns all around the vineyard. Our pest control team of 20 owls can eat up to 240 mice, gopher, voles, and prairie dogs a night. Each year we have a new hatch of owlets that need to be fed. We get a pest free vineyard and they get a home to raise their young. Another win-win.
Another way we reduce our need for chemicals in the vineyard is with electrostatic spraying. This is the same method used to paint your car in the factory. The spray is charged with 10,000 volts, at low amperage. The vine being grounded attracts the charged spray particles. The charged particles repulse from each other and search out the grounded portions of the unsprayed portions of the vine. You end up with a perfectly even coat that is extremely efficient. In fact, if you spray the front of a leaf the particles will leap around to the back and coat it the same as the front. The droplets in this method are only a few microns in size, helping create an even coat. This method allows us to use a fraction of the chemical and far less water.
All of this comes down to our ultimate goal which is sustainability. It is not a buzz word for us because we are a family vineyard. With three generations in the vines, we want the vineyard to be just as productive, healthy, and magical for the next three generations to come. A healthy vineyard makes healthy wines.
I hope you enjoyed a little insight into our farming philosophy, and will read future posts. I invite you to come visit us in our tasting rooms, in Scottsdale and Willcox or, weather permitting, order bottles for your table from our online shop.
Robert C Carlson III