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Greener Grapes

Greener Grapes

From Sophisticated Living May/June 2018 issue

Written by Chloe Geller 

From its inception more than three decades ago, the team at Bonterra Organic Vineyards (bonterra.com) has been grounded in the belief that better wines are made from farms teeming with biodiversity and healthy soils. Their portfolio of varietal wines, crafted by winemaker Jeff Cichocki and stewarded by founding winemaker Bob Blue, are exclusively made from 100% certified organic vineyards, with Bonterra’s own nearly 1,000 acres of organic vineyards in Mendocino County, California forming the backbone of the collection. 

 Bonterra's vineyards in Mendocino County, California.

Bonterra's vineyards in Mendocino County, California.

Upping the ante on organic, at the top end of Bonterra’s portfolio is a trio of single-vineyard wines produced from the estate’s Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyards: The McNab, The Butler and The Roost wines. Biodynamic farming, a method  put forth by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s, predates the creation of organic farming by two decades. Bonterra’s biodynamic wines are only crafted in exceptional vintages, serving as a testament to the potential of winegrowing that seeks to draw out the ultimate expression of a vineyard site. 

 In the garden at the Biodynamic McNab Ranch, there are approximately 100 different plants, including four types of lavender.

In the garden at the Biodynamic McNab Ranch, there are approximately 100 different plants, including four types of lavender.

With its adherence to the lunar calendar and a composting practice that involves, among other steps, filling cows’ horns with herbs, minerals and manure, burying them en masse in the soil during cooler months before being digging them up and spreading the biologic material over the fields months later, Cichocki admits that to the uninitiated, the processes can seem a little “fringe”. “There is a spiritual as well as a practical and scientific way to approach biodynamic farming, and we choose to focus on the latter because the practice results in healthy vines that grow  in a balanced way and make our vineyards stronger overall,” he explained. He added that the procedures hearken to self-sufficient family farming methods that were lost or eschewed in the era of industrial farming. “It’s up to us as biodynamic farmers to give back to the soil,” Cichocki said. 

In the garden at the Biodynamic McNab Ranch, there are approximately 100 different plants, including four types of lavender. Walking through the vineyards, you will spy plantings of native flowers interspersed with the grapes to attract beneficial bugs, cover crops like legumes that are tilled back into the soil to increase nitrogen, 3,000 sheep allowed to graze each winter, and chickens and songbirds that are welcomed to eat pests. There is a distinct sense of place here: warm and dry summers, the benefits of cooling breezes wafting from the Pacific Ocean 25 miles away, and mountains to block the fog, and the resulting threat of mildew and mold that comes with it. 

Fittingly, the affable Cichocki, who joined Bonterra in 2007, came into his career as a winemaker organically, transitioning from environmental planning to winemaking starting from the ground up. “I jumped in as a cellar rat, doing things like sanitizing tanks, and learned the craft from an apprenticeship standpoint,” he said.  His resume includes Mill Creek Winery in Healdsburg, Matanzas Creek Winery in Bennett Valley, Cakebread Cellars in Napa Valley and B.R. Cohn in Sonoma Valley. “It’s exciting to craft wines that are delicious, while knowing that the way we’re making them is something I can feel good about,” said Cichocki. 

Always striving to make wine in general and Bonterra’s wines specifically more approachable to a wider audience, Cichocki remarked that the company’s organic and biodynamic practices would be inconsequential if the resulting wines didn’t appeal to consumers. “We know people won’t come back just because we’re organic; we need to be able to compete with the rest of the world.” 

 

 

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