Our Practices: Paloma Vineyard’s Regenerative Farming Journey
If you are unfamiliar with the practice of Regenerative Farming, we highly recommend reading this short breakdown! What is Regenerative Farming?
In 2021, shortly after the devastating fire season of the previous fall, and after numerous years of drought conditions, we began discussing alternative farming practices. The overarching goal was to create a more resilient farm. Both droughts and fires did not appear to be slowing down and it became clear to us that we needed to take steps towards mitigation. That same year, we chose a test block, known as the West Knob, to begin implementing some new practices.
This area has typically performed as a low-vigor and low-production block. A low vigor simply means less vine growth in comparison to the norm, or the surrounding vineyard in this case. Low vigor generally leads to lower fruit production and challenges with ripening.
In 2021, we focused on watering. We wanted to figure out if we could decrease our water volume and maintain the needs of the vines. Given that vine roots run relatively deep, we decided to shift from a bi-weekly watering regimen to watering on a 3-week cycle and slightly increase the volume at each watering. So overall less water going out, but more water in the ground at each watering cycle. Essentially, encouraging the water to fall deeper into the soil where there is less evaporation and less competition for water. While we still feel the thought process was sound, we realized that the key to getting the water deeper wasn’t just how long we watered, but how accessible the deeper soil was for that water. Meaning, does it have the porosity to accept the water we are giving it?
This question, along with other hopes, led us into the world of Regenerative Farming. In 2022, after some initial soil testing, we learned that the soil in the West Knob, our test block, had some nutrient deficiencies that were affecting the health of the vines. This made a lot of sense given the low vigor. We chose to continue the watering practice and compliment it with a diverse, multispecy cover crop. The cover crop would serve two major purposes: increase the nutrients and nutrient availability in the soil, and help create the porosity needed to allow the water to penetrate deeper into the ground—not only is this beneficial to our watering practices, it also means more water retention in the winter months when the rains come!
While we are not seeing increased vigor just yet, through soil testing and leaf testing we are already seeing upticks in the micro and macronutrients in both the vines and in the soil. After only one season!
Every site has varying needs and Paloma is no different. While we source all of our fruit from our small 15-acre vineyard, the farm’s varying sun exposures, soils, air flows, temperatures, and altitude, lead to microclimates throughout. Converting our entire vineyard into an effective regenerative agricultural system will require some trial and error and a good amount of time.
We started with a small block and are now beginning to expand. This fall, after the 2023 harvest, we will begin implementing vineyard-wide cover crops. By collecting soil and leaf samples from different areas of the vineyard, we will learn what our needs are and plant crops that will begin to replenish the soil and reinvigorate the ecosystem.
In the spring of 2023, we planted various varietals on different rootstocks in the West Knob, as well as other parts of the vineyard that will soon need replanting. The idea is to see what might be best suited to each specific area.
We will continue to adjust the cover crops as needed to foster the health of the varying soil needs and support a variety of wildlife, which includes beneficial animals and bugs. We have also transitioned to an organic-based spray cycle that helps to strengthen the ecosystem rather than hinder it.
Ultimately, that is our goal; to strengthen the vineyard for the next generations. This is a long-term thoughtful strategy that at its root is meant to create a resilient, sustainable vineyard for the future so that we can continue to create high-quality wine for generations to come. We are excited about these processes and look forward to sharing more about them in the future!