Importance of healthy soil in the vineyard and why we care so much

Great wine starts with healthy soil. Unfortunately, industrial farming practices have stripped much of the world’s wine farmland of its natural character and its health, eliminating the potential for wine to optimally express its terroir and impacting the health of our global ecosystem. At Eco Terreno Wines & Vineyards we go to great lengths to ensure true soil health for our wines and our world.

How to create healthy soil

We consider ourselves soil farmers as much as we are winegrowers. In our beautiful, rustic vineyards located along the banks of the Russian River in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley, we follow the strictest guidelines for biodynamic farming. Several steps beyond organic farming and like regenerative farming (both of which we practice), biodynamic farming brings soil back into balance by working in partnership with nature rather than using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The many-step process incorporates cover crops, grazing animals, composting, and more, and the intimacy of the process allows us to have a mutually nurturing relationship with the Earth.

Grape vines on the vineyard are joined together as they grow
Healthy vines, vibrant and green, come from a healthy soil.

Measuring the microbiome

Our vibrant, healthy vineyards, edible gardens, orchard, and resident wildlife are good indications that our efforts are working. But we also regularly and holistically measure the soil’s health. We start by assessing if the soil is giving the vines the nutrients they need. Then we measure the ratio of organic to inorganic material and assess water retention. We also ensure a healthy soil microbiome by adding live microbes via a vermicompost tea we make on site. With more than five years of data looking at the overall fertility and health of the soil, our understanding of our soil deepens. 

But does it make a difference to wine quality?

One wonderful result of these efforts is that the grapes from our vineyards, the Lyon Vineyard and the Cisne Vineyard, impart the unique, distinguishable characteristics of their surroundings into the finished product. You can truly taste the difference. 

More than that, we’ve found that for all we give our soil, it gives back even more. Along with outstanding wines, healthy soil fosters a thriving ecosystem of plant and animal life as well as carbon sequestration (the capturing and storing of carbon dioxide so that it stays out of the atmosphere and cannot contribute to global warming). 

Healthy soil, healthy planet, great wines. What could be better than that?

Red wine from Alexander Valley in a glass with a person holding the glass and wine bottle in the background
One of our rich, luscious Cabernet Sauvignons from our biodynamically farmed Estate.

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The best compost for grapevines and how we make ours

We don’t use synthetic fertilizers and never will. Instead we fertilize biodynamically and rely on regenerative practices such as utilizing animals to help nourish and regenerate our vineyard farm soil. By converting inactive dirt to healthy soil and spreading a nutrient rich, microbe dense compost on our farm, we’re able to grow stronger, more robust pest- and disease-resistant plants. Our homemade compost is a combination of organic dairy cow manure, organic straw, pomace (leftovers from winemaking including grape stems, skins, and seeds), and any decomposed plant waste generated on our farm. We also add biodynamic preparations to the compost, enhancing its effectiveness and bioavailability. For one type of biodynamic preparation (specifically called BD507), we grow and utilize valerian flowers, which are then crushed and used to make the solution that is then sprayed over the compost pile. The effect of this preparation is to stimulate microlife to make available phosphorus—a macronutrient essential for plant growth and known for its vital role in photosynthesis.

How do we know our compost is improving the health of the soil?

Every year we are applying less and less. Why? Because our soil is building its own internal strength, able to support itself without relying upon extra from the compost, as nutrient dense as it may be…This is a key principle of biodynamic farming – 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. 

How to tell what type of soil you have at home

Any inactive dirt can be transformed into healthy soil, and the most effective way is to add compost. But before you start, it’s important to understand the type of soil in your garden. The three main classifications of soil are clay soils, sandy soils, and loamy soils. Clay is nutrient-rich, but slow draining, and it has a tendency to stay waterlogged. Sandy soil drains quickly, but it struggles to retain water and nutrients. The ideal soil type is loam, which drains well and is able to retain moisture and nutrients.

Here’s to how to determine your soil type, with the easy-to-do squeeze soil test:

  1. Water a patch of your soil (or wait until after the rain). The soil should be moist, not too wet.
  2. Pick up a clump of and gently squeeze it.
  3. Open your hand.
  4. If the soil keeps its shape, and crumbles when lightly poked, rejoice. You have loamy soil, the ideal soil for most plants, flowers, and vegetables. 
  5. If the soil keeps its shape, then when poked stays in shape, you have clay soil.
  6. If the soil falls apart immediately when you open your hand, you have sandy soil.

Understanding your soil type is the first step to composting. We’ll dig deeper (into soil…) in future posts on this topic so visit us again soon for more information and tips.

Read more about life on a regenerative wine farm

Learn about our farming practices

Discover what led to our dedication to Mother Earth

Find out other ways we give back