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When I was a child, my mother had a cross stitch saying framed and hung on the wall of our home that said:

This home is clean enough to be healthy and messing enough to be happy. 

I think we all know what that means. While the dishes were always done and the house was kept dusted and vacuumed, there were still toys on the floor, books on the couch or other evidence that it was a house lived in by real people that were more interested in being a loving family than in maintaining a state of overt photo-ready tidiness.

I have taken a similar, but slightly different, approach to vineyard management. This is my motto:

This vineyard is messy enough to be healthy. 

What does this mean? To understand this motto one should know that many vineyards are treated as a mono-culture, where everything that is not a grape vine should be tilled or sprayed into oblivion leaving nothing but vines and bare earth.

Complete row and aisle tillage.

Complete row and aisle tillage.

The fact is farming is land use that alters the local ecosystem. There is no getting around this. But farming should try to find a balanced approach to that land use. Many younger farmer/wine makers, and especially those that oversee smaller vineyards, are starting to see vineyards as part of the local landscape and ecosystem. When thinking shifts into this direction, tending and management of a vineyard becomes a matter of balancing the vineyard as a constituent part of regional landscape, rather than just the area that comprises the vineyard.

Thus the idea that everything in the vineyard competes with the vine, and automatically is bad because it decreases yields, is slowly being replaced with a balanced approach. One that is designed to provide home to beneficial insects, improves soil quality, reduce erosion, etc. Which all in turn reduces needs for insecticides and fertilizers while actually improving a vines overall health. And of course all this saves both time and money; so yes, being ecological can also mean being fiscally smart, or vice-versa.

For example, wine is well known to respond well to soil tilling for a variety of reasons. But excessive tilling does have problems of its own, especially on slopes. So my balanced approach is to apply a modified till under the vines while allowing the aisle to grow with native grasses and “weeds” (with limited mowing). The grass does compete slightly with the vines, but if the grass strip is managed properly and in balance this should not be significant and the advantages far outweigh any detrimental affects.

Tilled rows with asles allowed to remain in vegation.

Tilled rows with aisles allowed to remain in vegetation. The  grassy aisles  provide habitat for beneficial insects, help in erosion control and generally improve the structure of the soil in the vineyard.

A limited tillage is also less work (less time and money spent) than a full till, while the remaining vegetation provides a home and food source for beneficial insects (including honey and solitary bees and butterflies):

Wildflowers growing in the untiled rows provides food and habitat to native insects.

Wildflowers growing in the untilled rows provides food and habitat to native insects.

So with less tilling, the vineyard at times looks less “neat” than bare soil found in the vineyards of others, but I see my vineyards under their modified management as more sustainable and healthy overall.

And aside of all that, I also admit I like all the different wildflowers that grow in unmowed aisles.

Wildflower in vineyard.

Wildflower in vineyard.

Wildflower in vineyard.

Wildflower in vineyard.

Wildflowers in vineyard.

Wildflowers in vineyard.

Wildflower in vineyard.

Wildflower in vineyard.

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