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In California's winelands, winter is a time when brown hills turn green and vineyards turn green with a "cover crop." CC units can be an incorrect clue as nothing in the "cover crop" is harvested. In vineyards you will notice this cover crop between the vine rows.
During the late 70's or early 80's (exact dates are difficult to determine), some vineyards seemed to be inundated with what appeared to be weeds. In fact, CCs help eliminate weeds between the rows. The green eye-catching colors were not weeds; rather a sophisticated blend of grass, beans, oats, barley, peas, mustard seeds. CC seeds were planted between the rows of vines with much thought.
Vineyard managers knew in the late 1970s that this CC improved grape production for a number of reasons. In an agricultural environment alone, the benefits of a cover crop in vineyards include:
- When poured back into the soil, they increase organic matter and available nitrogen
- Improve the habitat of earthworms and beneficial microorganisms
- Prevent erosion
- Bring deep-rooted minerals to the surface
- Improves soil water, root and air penetration
- Increases the soil's moisture resistance
- Breaking up the compressed subsoil
- Provides aesthetic value and color
- Provides habitat for beneficial vineyard insects
- Nibble away weeds
Many drive along picturesque country roads and never notice the vineyard CC or even the purpose of plant material that grows between the rows.
Bill Frick is a small winemaker in Sonoma County who owns a boutique winery and winery. On a winter visit to see Bill I commented on "weeds" as he grew between the rows in his vineyard? After an incredible look of disbelief at the comment, Bill explained, "I spend a lot of time and money planting a perfect blend of seeds that grow what you call weeds. I think it's important for all vineyard owners to plant winter cover crops to add to nutrients in the soil, to eliminate erosion and optimize moisture retention during the wet winter season. "I found out that Bill's mixture of seeds cost about $ 0.80 per pound and his goal is to use 100 pounds per vineyard acre.
Bill & # 39; s CC is a blend of hybrid seeds that improves the quality of grapes and finally the wine. This happens by increasing nitrogen and other soil nutrients from CC plants. Vines need what these plants produce just before the vines come out of dormancy. In the end, the combination of plants from different seeds is cut and torn into the soil. The plants produce more nutrients the vines need to produce grapes. Nitrogen production is the process that begins in early winter.
LeBallister's seeds and fertilizers in Santa Rosa, California, cater to the vineyard industry. They advertise that a special blend of seeds for a vineyard planting can range between $ 0.50- $ 0.6o per pound, with organic seed blends costing $ 0.70- $ 0.80 per pound. The recommended application is 50-75 pounds per vineyard acre. (Winery acres are smaller than area acres - just the area planted between rows that make up a vineyard acre.) Interestingly, most seeds that make up a vineyard cover crop mixtures are grown in California's Central Valley.
I remember learning that good preservation used techniques like crop rotation and planting of crops that helped control soil erosion - remember pictures of the dust bowl. Cover crops are not really new in agriculture and go back to Roman times. Virtually all crops can use the cover crop process. In California's winelands, cover crops are very important for water protection, erosion control and fertilizer minimization; also follow the dictates of organic farming. Interestingly, it is reported in "Successful Farming Magazine-2008; a family farm in North Dakota began using cover harvesting techniques to improve maize production. Biodynamic farming, introduced in Germany in the 1920s, promotes crop coverage in the wine industry. Benzinger Winery was the first to tried biodynamic farming in 1995.
Finally, ecological benefits of cover crops have already been noted. But there are ongoing research projects from UC Davis and Oregon State University on aroma in wine. The chemistry that makes aroma in wine comes from CC? An important advantage of CC is that added nitrogen goes to the roots. Nitrogen is an important component of adding aromas to wines and affecting flavors.
A study from Oregon State University says: "Grape and wine quality can be manipulated through vineyard management. Each vineyard is unique and the coverage of crops (seed mixes) will depend on many factors such as soil type, gradient, vine density, water availability, soil nutrients."
"Wines from cover crop treatments contain higher levels of all aromatic compounds. Therefore, it can be concluded that cover crops contribute positively to the aroma and ultimately the overall quality of wine," says Becca Yeamans-Irwin, The Academic Wino, August 3, 2011.