The plants are looking better than ever.

The plants are looking better than ever.

Productivity and Sustainability

We have the privilege of looking after and reaping the rewards of 2.89 acres of vineyard in what is admittedly a challenging place to grow grapes. The varieties we grow (Marechal Foch, Argus, Ortega and Perle of C’saba) have been selected by trial and error for their ability to deliver ripe grapes in our relatively short season and to endure the extra couple of degrees of frost we experience with our northern location. Fortunately, grapes like to work for a living and throwing a little adversity at them encourages intense varietal character and interesting flavours that are a direct result of their somewhat difficult circumstances. Having said that, the land we have is about as good as it gets for grapes in our area, which is the extreme northern end of the Okanagan Valley. The vineyard is on an alluvial sand bed that is hundreds of feet deep and its southwestern exposure soaks up the heat from the unobscured summer sun. Pure well water keeps the plants thriving through the tremendously hot summer days and the steep slope encourages lots of air movement to discourage disease. The vineyard is constantly under development but is mostly planted and producing now. We expect about six tons of grapes from it this year and that’s enough to make about 350 cases of wine.


Vineyard Practices: No GMO, Roundup:

No Harsh Herbicides, Fungicides, Pesticides

webbrochureimageAt Edge of the Earth Vineyards, we spend a lot of time on our beautiful land and the last thing on Earth we want is to expose ourselves and the land to the toxic stew of genetically altered, chemically dependent practices that dominate industrial agriculture. While it’s easy to wax philosophical about sustainability, the practical matter is that the only way any of those noxious substances can get on our land is if we put them there and we’re not about to poison ourselves for the sake of a little convenience.  There are safe, earth-friendly ways to accomplish the same agricultural goals and some of them are actually easier, not to mention a lot less scary, than sealing ourselves up in rubber suits and killing other organisms to “benefit” our grapes. Here’s how we do it.

Weed Control

troybiltponyGrapes don’t like to be crowded and in most vineyards it’s necessary to keep weeds and grasses from competing for soil nutrients and water. We use a classic Troybilt rear-tined tiller to clear the weeds beside and between the plants. We do this just as the new growth of weeds and grass starts to appear in the spring and the effect is quite long lasting. Another pass in mid summer is usually enough for the season and it’s getting easier all the time because the more we till, the fewer weeds get established. It takes about two days to till the 8,000 feet of vineyard rows but it looks great when it’s done and gives us a chance to take a close look at every plant in the vineyard to spot problems before they can spread or cause damage.

Insect Control

waspnettingOur only major pest is the yellowjacket or wasp and in some years if they aren’t effectively controlled they would destroy every single grape in the vineyard. Every year in mid August we cover the vines with a relatively tightly woven net made of UV-resistant high density polyethylene. The nets allow about 98 percent of the light through but they keep wasps out. It takes a couple of days to put the nets out but compared to the alternative that’s a huge time saving. We know of vineyards that, in bad years, have to spray with horrifically toxic substances every day and still suffer major damage. What’s worse, in our opinion, is that some of those chemicals inevitably get inside the grapes that end up in wine because wasps pierce the skin of the grapes to suck the juice. The nets are not only much more effective, they’re safer and they’re a lot less work. The nets also protect against hail and wind damage and we think they might even offer a small amount of frost protection. They were one of the best investments we’ve made in the vineyard.

Mold and Mildew

serenadeMolds and mildews can cause a variety of problems with the plants and the fruit. As with many pest problems, prevention is the key. Mold and mildew need damp, warm conditions to thrive and the most important preventive measure is to ensure constant effective air movement in the vineyard. Managing the canopy and ensuring air can move in all directions around every part of the plant keeps the leaves and fruit dry and prevents the conditions needed for mold and mildew growth. But a period of damp weather followed by a hot spell can provoke a serious outbreak and it needs to be dealt with. We use an organic mildecide/fungicide called Serenade. It’s not a chemical. It’s a bacteria called Bacilus subtilis that actually eats the spores that cause powdery mildew, botrytis and sour rot, the worst of the fungal and mildew pests in grapes. It works well and is completely harmless to other organisms.

Animal Control

One of a dozen Mule Deer taking advantage of the ripening grapes. Gray Monk Vineyard 1055 Camp Road, Okanagan Center BC. October 02, 2010. (Peter Tanner Photo)Our policy there is essentially to live and let live. Deer love the tender growing shoots of grape plants but the little herd that frequents our vineyard can’t possibly eat enough to cause any significant damage so we just enjoy their company and make use of the fertilizer left behind. We have moles in the vineyard but they eat insects and aerate the soil with their tunnels. They will chew through a grape root that gets in their way and we lose the odd plant that way but it’s trivial compared to the damage we would cause by pumping poisonous gas in their tunnels or laying out poisons that the neighbourhood dogs and cats might get into. Bears and birds are only interested in the ripe fruit and the nets seem to deter the bears and keep all the birds out. About the only creature that seems to successfully defeat the nets is a particular coyote with a fondness for grapes and the wileyness to exploit openings in the nets to get a few of the low-hanging clusters. We’ve never seen any other coyote doing the same so it’s kind of a fun thing to watch and the loss is insignificant.