Regenerative Wine Farming: What it is and why it matters to our farm and the earth
Regenerative farming is a recent agricultural buzz phrase, but for us at Eco Terreno it’s a way of life. As winegrowers, we have the privilege of stewarding a special patch of land in Alexander Valley, a tranquil, rural region in northeastern Sonoma County. Bordered by the Russian River, our land abounds with wildlife and flourishes with all types of beautiful and beneficial plant species, many native. We consider it our responsibility to not only make exceptional wines showcasing the unique flavors of our region, but also to lead the way to the future of wine farming, where the benefits are not just what’s in your wineglass but also how we heal, restore, and strengthen our land for future generations. This is the foundation of regenerative wine farming, also known as regenerative viticulture, and it’s what we practice every step of the way at Eco Terreno Wines & Vineyards.
Whether you’re curious about what regenerative wine farming means, how it positively impacts a farm and the planet, or how it affects wine’s character, we’re happy to share what we know here. We hope you’ll join us in our commitment to drink what you believe and “bee” the change.
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What is Regenerative wine farming?
Regenerative wine farming is essentially what it sounds like—farming grapes in a way that regenerates soil health. But it’s so much more than that. Regenerative farming is a set of organic, ecologically-driven farming practices that enhance our ecosystem into a natural state of health and harmony by working in partnership with nature.
The benefits of regenerative farming, also known as regenerative agriculture, are widespread. Farming this way increases biodiversity, restores soil and plant microbiome, and eliminates the need to introduce toxic pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs into our soils, waters, and grapevines. Equally important are the broader environmental benefits. Regenerative agriculture has the potential to reverse climate change by capturing carbon in the soil and removing it from the atmosphere. Sounds like a good thing to do, right? And perhaps a better way to grow grapes that produce delicious, natural wine?
We agree. For us, regenerative wine farming is the only clear path to ensuring the long-term health of the planet and all its inhabitants. We’ve found it’s also the surest way to make wines that express the truest and most delicious sense of place; we’ll share more on this later. But first, there are a number of elements that go into regenerative farming. We take it many steps further, but let’s start with the basics. Regenerative farming includes:
- Planting diverse cover crops. In traditional industrial agriculture, the soil is tilled. This practice allows for the most economical farming, but it’s also terrible for soil health; it fractures the soil’s natural structure and instigates soil erosion, water runoff, and poor water infiltration. At Eco Terreno we follow nature’s lead. We seed more than 100 acres of our estate wine farm with a variety of cover crops that welcome pollinators, increase water retention, and defend against undesirable weeds, erosion, and the need for pesticides and excess irrigation. Simultaneously, these cover crops elevate soil nutrients levels and provide the biodiversity essential to a healthy ecosystem.
- Integrating animals and controlled grazing. We welcome sheep, chickens, geese, and ducks to roam between our vines. As they frolic and nibble away at pests and weeds, they add nutrient-rich manure to the soil, improve soil health, and further eliminate the need for pesticides. And they look darned cute doing it.
- Composting: Adding compost to soil turns barren earth into healthy soil without the use of synthetic or chemical fertilizers. We make our own biodynamic compost on-site, from organic cow manure, organic straw, organic plant waste from our edible garden, and even pomace (leftover grape skins, seeds and stems from winemaking), making ours a genuinely vineyard-centric compost.
Biodynamic farming of vineyards at Eco Terreno
We mentioned taking our regenerative wine farming actions many steps further. At our sustainable farm, we do that through Demeter Certified Biodynamic farming, a holistic, self-sustaining form of regenerative organic farming.
Like regenerative farming, biodynamic farming uses a whole-farm approach, where the earth, people, plants, and animals work together to create a healthy, sustainable ecosystem.
At Eco Terreno, we use organic herbs and other organic matter to create nine biodynamic preparations to use on our farm. Essentially homeopathic supplements, these biodynamic treatments are added to our compost or sprayed onto our vines to strengthen their health and vitality from within.
Additional benefits to Regenerative farming on a vineyard
The benefits of farming with rejuvenating practices rather than conventional erosion-inducing industrial farming practices are bountiful and obvious on our happy farm. The grounds are rustic, alive, and flourishing. Witness our organic vineyards, and you’d see nature working in harmony, with butterflies dancing through our edible gardens, orchard, and olive grove and busy farm animals and resident birds and bees enjoying the riches of healthy land in its optimal state.
There are unseen benefits, too. All of our regenerative farming efforts at our Sonoma County vineyard create what’s known as carbon sequestration—where plants naturally capture and store, rather than emit into the Earth’s atmosphere, atmospheric carbon dioxide. This contributes to the health of our farming community, local wildlife, neighboring river and its inhabitants, and the planet as a whole because it stops the perpetuation of global warming.
As if this isn’t reward enough, there are our wines. Regenerative farming practices foster a robust ecosystem for our vines to prosper naturally, in turn producing fruit that is truly expressive of its surroundings and wines with enhanced minerality and other nuances that come from healthy, site-specific soil without chemical manipulation. Taste any of our biodynamically farmed wines, such as our 2017 Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, and you’ll immediately notice the distinctly delicious, terroir-driven flavors of our biodynamic estate.
Our commitment to Biodynamic and Regenerative wine farming at Eco Terreno Wines & Vineyards
In 2014, Mark Lyon, our Founder, embarked on the challenging three-year process required for classification as a biodynamically farmed vineyard by the governing body, Demeter. Inspired by a trip to the famed Bordeaux wine region in France, where he noted the subtle nuance of depth and sense of place in the wines, he vowed to capture this expression of regenerative, clean farming in his own wines. Since then, we’ve been committed to the regenerative farming movement both as a way to produce outstanding, pure wines from grapes free of fertilizer and pesticide, but more importantly as a way to do the right thing for our planet and our future.
We believe so strongly in this, we implemented the strict practices required to be certified as both biodynamic and organic farmers long before regenerative farming became a popular term. To put this in perspective, of the approximate 11,000 wineries in the US, only about 80 of them are certified by Demeter as biodynamic winegrowers. We also leave 10 percent of our land unfarmed and available to our wildlife, providing a safe, healthy environment and habitat for bees, birds, insects, and other animals to live and thrive.
To express our reverence and respect for the land, we are named Eco Terreno, meaning “ecology of the land” in Spanish. When you enjoy the wines from our biodynamic vineyard, you get a true taste of our special part of the world we protect with hard work and a sense of purpose. By supporting our efforts to farm in harmony, you too can promote the positive regenerative practices that help build a better future for us all. We can’t think of a better reason to raise a glass and celebrate.
Is there a difference between biodynamic, organic, and regenerative farming?
Farming without pesticides, herbicides, or GMOs is mandatory within all these practices, but biodynamic elevates farming with nature even further. For the intricate details of what it takes to be a certified Biodynamic farm, refer to Demeter, the governing body on Biodynamic agriculture. As stewards of the land, it was an easy decision for us to incorporate all the best practices supportive of the environment and its regeneration. Our mission everyday is to build health from within; working with the farm’s own resources to create an environment so full of vitality that the plants and animals are better equipped to protect themselves from disease and predatory insects. As nature always intended.
Can Regenerative agriculture reverse climate change?
It’s estimated that just under 40 percent of the global land surface is farmland; one-third cropland and two-thirds grazing land. Given the size of this land use, it makes sense that the way we farm will have an impact on the ecosystem globally. Scientific research continues to support the potential for regenerative agriculture to help mitigate climate change with the important role it can play through carbon sequestration. Less carbon in the atmosphere has many benefits, including improved air quality for all and the slowing down of global warming. If farmed in accordance with nature, not the industrial farming model, croplands can become a carbon sink (absorbing carbon from the atmosphere) rather than a carbon source. These are the practices we follow at Eco Terreno to help mitigate the damaging effect of climate change:
- Integrate livestock to roam freely, adding nutrients to the soil
- Little to no tillage, to decrease soil erosion and improve water retention
- Seed cover crops to increase the farms biodiversity and soil health
- Use compost to build soil health and eliminate usage of chemicals
Ways to be greener at home. Everyday ideas that are easy to do.
- Plant a simple herb garden. The five easiest herbs to grow at home are basil, parsley, mint, chives, and rosemary.
- Compost your food waste. We of course love compost, but you should too. Hopefully you live in an area where compost is accepted. Or apply your compost to the garden.
- Reduce plastic usage. Take your tote bags shopping and drink from reusable bottles.
- Use less energy in your house. Letting the natural light in will decrease the need to turn on the lights until later, thereby reducing your energy usage every day.
- Support producers that practice regenerative farming, especially local ones. An easy way to find such businesses is to use the farm map search tool on the Regeneration International website.