"Veggies in our Vineyard"
Our Rennie Vineyard - with Fava beans, Austrian peas, vetch, barley, and oats are all part of green manure plow-down, which helps build organic matter
Conventional Vineyard - that manicured, Country Club look from multiple applications of herbicides (both photo's taken the same day)
Advantages of Sheep
Each winter and early spring we have sheep in our vineyard to help with free fertilzer and to keep the grass down.
Sheep spend the winter and part of the early spring in our vineyard feasting on unwanted weeds and providing the bonus of a little fertilizer. Growing organically and therefore without the use of herbicides, weed control is an expensive and time-consuming challenge. We mow, hoe, burn, and, eh, sometimes? munch!
Fortunately our neighbor to the north, Kevin, was raised as a sheep herder in Wales. Partly because he doesn't have a large enough pasture for the number of sheep, we share them by hosting them in our vineyards about six months of the year. Each month one sheep can deposit via manure about 1.25 lbs of nitrogen,
0.6 lbs of phosphorus and 1.2 lbs. of potassium; so needed by
The breed of the sheep is Targhee, named after the Targhee National Forest, which stretches across southeastern Idaho, from the Montana, Utah, and Wyoming borders. This breed is thick in natural fleshing, produces high quality apparel type wool, and readily adapts to rugged conditions. Overall ours is an excellent arragement that turns out to be a "win/win/win" for all parties involved.
What is Organic and why does it matter?
Although organic farming is seen as something ‘new and cutting edge’, it is in fact a return to traditional methods of agricultural production. Since the ancient Roman era, farmers used techniques such as crop rotation (planting different crops over the course of the year) to maintain soil health and grazed livestock on fallow (non-planted) fields to add fertilizer in the form of natural manure. These basic techniques produced crops year after year, without reducing the long term soil fertility.
What we in the 21st century consider “conventional” farming is a quite recent development. Starting in the mid 19th chemical fertilizers were first applied to crops on a regular basis. By 1900 there were over 3.5 million tons of manufactured fertilizers applied to US soil. Pesticides were developed and used in the early 20th century, with increased use after WWII.
In 2001, there were 164,437 separate applications of pesticides totaling over 22 million pounds of active ingredients applied to wine grapes in California alone! One reason many chemicals are used is to allow large farms to grow the same crops year after year on the same land. In fact, the average size of farms in the US has tripled since the 1930’s, from 157 to 471 acres, as of 1997.
The basic goal of organic farming is to create healthy, living soils. This is achieved in two ways. First is the use of only natural fertilizers, compounds that contain a wide range of the nutrients needed by plants and avoiding the concentrated fertilizers that are heavy on the three main plant foods; nitrogen, potassium and phosphate. (A good analogy is a person eating only sugar, steak and olive oil. They would certainly get all the energy and protein they require, but would lack the vitamins and minerals to keep them truly healthy, and would eventually fall ill; scurvy, rickets and goiter are all conditions that result from lack of a specific vitamin.)
The second main part of organic farming is avoiding harmful chemicals. Many of the compounds used to control pest insects also kill beneficial insects; those that might eat the ‘bad’ bugs or even bees that pollinate crops. The loss of beneficial bugs can throw off the balance in the field, causing even greater infestations, requiring the use of stronger pesticides, or more frequent applications. The average sprayed vineyard in California will be sprayed over 15 times each year!
Not only do pesticides affect the environment, but also pose problems to those who work in, or live the fields. There is evidence linking pesticides with birth defects and cancer in farm workers.
And even the ‘inert’ ingredients in pesticides can cause problems. The most widely used pesticide in the world, glyphosate, is hailed as being “as safe as table salt”. (Let’s ignore for now that table salt in high concentrations will kill a person, or render soil unusable). Unfortunately another chemical in the formula; polyoxethyleneamine, doesn’t seem as non-toxic.
Why Certified Organic?
Without getting an independent agency to verify that a farm is organic, you can never be 100% certain about its products. There is a strict set of codes that the organic producer must adhere to, and trained inspectors visit every certified organic farm each year to insure the standards are met. While there are additional expenses involved with getting and maintaining an organic certification, the customer has an independent, verifiable record of practices on any given farm. This provides confidence for the purchaser and producer alike. Many vineyards in California use very little chemicals except herbicides to control weeds. This is a laudable goal, but is not organic. Certified equals confidence!
Organic Grapes, and the Wine They Make
The main issue with organic is truly in the vineyard. Grapes are the number one fruit or vegetable crop in terms of tons of pesticides per acre dumped on them annually (strawberries and tomatoes are the others in the top three). To be certified organic (as Yorkville Vineyards has been since 1986) there can be no use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or chemical fertilizers. The best wines come from healthy vines, living in healthy soils. Vines farmed naturally are more likely to be healthy and produce the best fruit. These are the reasons we're farming organically.
The Question of Sulfites
Let’s be clear, there are a small group of people who are sensitive to sulfites. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that about one person in 100 is sulfite-sensitive and that 5% of those (usually asthma sufferers) can have a serious adverse reaction to sulfites. Many foods contain sulfites, most of these contain much greater concentrations than wine; canned tomatoes, frozen shrimp and other shellfish, crackers, most dried fruit and fruit toppings, and orange juice to name a few. Sulfite sensitivity can be a serious medical problem and those who are sensitive must be careful, and will have to avoid many foods. The good news is that for the rest of us, sulfites are not a concern, each day our bodies produce more sulfite than is contained in a bottle of our wine.
We have had several customers in our tasting room express concerns regarding the use of sulfites in our wines. We would, therefore, like to offer some information we hope will clarify the issue of sulfites in wine.
In terms of impact on the environment, tons of fertilizer and pesticides are used in vineyards, and a few pounds of sulfite in the winery. Clearly, this is an issue that has been misunderstood. All wines contain sulfite, it is a natural by-product of fermentation, resulting in 8-15 parts per million (PPM) even without additional added sulfite. All wine made with organic grapes must contain less than 100 PPM at bottling, and this level goes down with ageing. Our wines have total sulfites at bottling that are about three times what you find naturally, and after a couple years in the bottle are often below what can be accurately measured.
A person who has a sensitivity probably knows it, and must avoid many foods. Others think they might be sensitive because they have had headaches after drinking wine. Often one hears people say they particularly get headaches with red wines. In fact, white wines generally have higher sulfite levels, to prevent ‘browning’ or other effects of oxidization. The compounds in the skins of red grapes that give red wine its color also act as natural preservatives, allowing red wines to be stable with lower levels of sulfite.
If you have experienced a skin rash with redness, itching, and swelling, you may be sulfite sensitive. You may have experienced this after eating dried fruit, such as apricots, or after going to a salad bar. Perhaps you experienced nausea and/or stomach cramps from a shrimp cocktail, pickles, even cookies or crackers; all these foods contain sulfites that you may have reacted to.
If, however, you can eat these foods with no negative reactions, you are not sulfite-sensitive.
Headaches, Wine and Sulfites
Some wine drinkers complain of a stuffy nose or headaches after consuming wine, symptoms that usually occur within an hour or two, and can occur after drinking a glass of wine, or less. (If you have a headache 6 to 12 hours after consuming wine, you have what is known as a ‘hangover’, often associated with over-consumption, but really caused by dehydration. Drink a few glasses of water before going to bed, or skip that last drink, and you should be OK.) So what caused the headache from that single glass of wine? If it was a red wine, chances are it was not sulfite related, as red wines usually contain less sulfite than white wines.
There are hundreds of compounds in a glass of wine, so it is hard to be certain of the cause, but let’s look at some possible culprits.
First of all is a group of compounds called amines. There are two main types in wine; histamines and tyramines. Both of these affect the blood vessels in your body, either dilating or constricting them. However, the concentrations of amines found in wine may be too small to cause headaches. The tannins in the skins of grapes are also suspected to cause headaches, but this mainly affects migraine sufferers. Both amines and tannins tend to be found at higher concentrations in young red wines. New research is looking at prostaglandin, which is produced by your body from compounds found in the grapeskin, and is active in very small concentrations.
There is another possibility, and that is the residue from pesticides that finds its way into a bottle of wine. There have been studies showing pesticide residue in wine made from conventionally grown grapes. Some people report headaches associated with wine disappear when they switch to wine made from organic grapes. This evidence is anecdotal, but our wines are free of pesticide and taste great, so it is worth trying them!
If you know positively that you are sulfite-sensitive, you do have a limited choice of wines that have no added sulfites, usually measuring 8-15 PPM natural sulfite at bottling. Unfortunately, without the use of sulfites as a protection from oxidation, these wines need to be consumed quite young and can be very inconsistent. Be aware that wines labeled ‘no added sulfites’ may contain synthetic preservatives.
A Bit of History:
The use of sulfites to preserve wine dates back more than 2,000 years, to when the Romans used sulfur as one method of sealing their barrels and jugs. They may have burned sulfur to purify the vessels as well. Sulfur candles were recommended by 15th century German wine laws, to be burned inside barrels before filling them with wine. The sulfur dioxide left on the container would dissolve in the wine, becoming the preservative we call sulfites. By the 18th century sulfur candles were regularly used to sterilize barrels used in Bordeaux. Sulfites have been used to preserve food since the 17th century and in the U.S. since the early 1800's. The addition of sulfite preserves the color and flavor of foods, keeping fresh fruit flavors in your wine for years.
Due to increased sanitation in modern winemaking, the average level of sulfite used in wine is now much lower than in the past. Historically other preservatives used in wine have included pine resin and salt, which have a much greater impact on the flavor of the wine. Until wooden barrels were used by the Romans, most wine was stored in clay jugs which had to be coated with pine resin to make them leak proof.
What are sulfites?
Sulfites are created when sulfur dioxide is added to water or wine. The use of SO2 is as a preservative to prevent oxidation from turning wine (or food) brown or changing the flavors by taking away the freshness.
Why are there warnings on wine labels?
In 1985 the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) was hired by the government to determine the link between sulfites and health problems. Although it was determined that the vast majority of people do not have any reaction to sulfites, there are some who can actually go into shock (usually asthmatics who are taking steroids for their condition). For this reason, the FDA began requiring labels on all food and beverages containing more than 10 PPM and prohibited use of sulfites on fruits and veggies meant to be eaten raw, as in salad bars. On dried fruits, this will read in the ingredients list as sulfur dioxide and on a wine label as ‘contains sulfites’.
There are currently no regulations requiring reporting the amount of sulfites, but US law restricts the amount in wine to 350 PPM. All of our wines contain less than 100 PPM, meaning orange juice and pickles contain more sulfites than our wines.
What's a part per million?
10 parts per million is equal to 1 part sulfite to 100,000 parts wine – think of a drop of food coloring in a bathtub full of water!
What causes my headaches?
Two naturally occurring substances found in wine are histamines and tyramines. These cause blood vessels to expand or contract, sometimes causing headaches. These biogenic amines are found in both white and red wines, with higher concentrations in reds. Tannins have been known to cause headaches in those who suffer from migraines. Don't overlook the fact that maybe you just had one glass too many and your headache is one of the hangover variety, rather than any allergic reaction or sensitivity.
How do I know if I'm sulfite-sensitive?
Ask your doctor. If you have had reactions to pickles, dried fruits, processed jams, fruit/veggie juices or any number of other foods that contain sulfites, you may be sulfite sensitive. Reactions usually (but not exclusively) include stomach cramps, red itchy rash and/or shortness of breath. Again, consult your doctor regarding any problems you may have had.
Note that wines with no added sulfites to those naturally occuring can typically have 5 to 15 parts per million.