A personal perpsective of life in our Virginia vineyard... Christine Wells Vrooman



"La Lutte Raisonnee" and Sustainable Farming

Vines in the Balance
Well, here we are at the end of our second year of growth, and we find our vines' sizes to be as varied as the days of the seasons up here on the crest of the Virginia Blue Ridge.  We hope a winter's rest will help to balance them out a bit...  give the weaker ones a chance to get better footing, and when the warming earth and lengthening days signal them back to life, they will catch up with their bigger counterparts and we will have vines that are more equal in size.  That would help us come harvest time, when the ripening and sugar levels of the fruit would be more uniform as well.

We have several vines that just don't  want to give in to winter's nudge.  Their leaves, yellowed and tattered still cling to the vine.  Best they go to sleep on their own now before a hard winter's freeze comes along.  They would then face the risk of being damaged if the sap is still flowing through the plant.  I like to think they are just enjoying life so much.. just wanting to soak up that sun and warmth before they take that long, cold nap.  Can't say I blame them! 

A Micro-climate to Love
We have yet to experience a frost up here this fall.  At our elevation of 1700 feet,  our spring and autumn mornings are often as many as 10 to 20 degrees warmer than down in the valleys below us.  And the summer afternoon highs usually hovered around 5 degrees cooler than our lower counterparts.  We give thanks to the valleys below!
This little micro-climate of ours is good for our vines and has added even more sweetness to our life up here.  What a treat to sit out on the deck in late autumn with a morning cup of coffee in shirtsleeves, while looking at the low-lying fogs and frosts in my eye's view. If only our nemesis Black Rot would go on its merry way.

La Lutte Raisonnee
While reading about the vineyards of France recently, I stumbled upon a phrase to which I have grown fond... "la lutte raisonnee".  Beyond the fact that I love the sound of the words, the rhythm of the phrase, it is a term that I think can define our farming philosophy and practices.

This intriguing phrase refers to those vineyards that are farmed as organically as possible, but when confronted with a problem for which there is no organic solution, the vintners take action to prevent the loss of their crop.  This dilemma creates within the vintner a struggle, knowing he must compromise on his ideal so that he can save the crop.  This dilemma and subsequent action is defined as "the reasoned struggle".   There is no governing body, no association, no label that can be stamped, "La Lutte Raisonnee".  But for me the term offers a sense of camaraderie, a definition, a sense of association with others who struggle to maintain a balanced environment but who accept there are times we have no option other than to strengthen our weaponry, albeit for just one little battle, that will allow us to win the war.  And so next year, unless some proven organic recipe comes along in the meantime that will conquer BR, we will practice our own "reasoned struggle"... our "la lutte raisonnee".

This will mean, of course, we cannot qualify for organic certification. At least not next year.   But it really wasn't the certification that was so important to us, it was our desire to work on a plot of land that was not only healthy for the vines but for us, our workers, our grandbabies...  our dogs, the bees, the birds, the soil itself, the waters downstream from us.   But what good is a vineyard if there is no crop?  So if we have to spray a few times to treat this one issue, so be it.  We will spray only enough to treat Black Rot, hopefully creating minimal impact on the balance of life that hums in, under and through the vines.

Beyond The Vines... A Sustainable Farm
A dear friend of ours who owns a beautiful vineyard here in Virginia is often asked why he chose to grow grapes here and not in California.   His response.. "Anyone can grow grapes in California!"  I love that spirit that so closely aligns with ours when we are asked why we chose to grow organic Pinot Noir in Virginia.  There should, in our opinion, always be those who push the barriers, who challenge the status quo.

But we are here not only to raise a vineyard, but to raise and tend to a sustainable farm and all its creatures, great and small.  We have here a smattering of crops grown from heirloom seeds, two small orchards of apples, peaches, pears, plums, figs and more...  a flock of sheep to graze and fertilize, and in the spring, their lambs... and in late January (we hope!) offspring from our guard dogs, our Maremmas, Bella and Dan... These pups will grow up to protect the species with whom they were raised  For us, our sheep.

Sustainable... a term that has finally caught on in Virginia.  Loosely, it means an approach to farming where the goal is for a farm to be able to sustain itself on what it generates, creating a circle and cycle of life that perpetuates itself...  Respecting all elements of the farm, its natural resources and the people who work there.  I think of it as harmony, where all of life seems to co-exist for the benefit of all.  To be sustainable, a farm must generate its own compost that will cook itself into a microbial rich masterpiece that will nourish the ground under our vines and crops.  We built a pond and within months of its presence an entire eco-system was creating itself, and the sounds of peepers, toads, and frogs fill the air every spring.  We are fortunate to occasionally get a close-up view of the little creatures.

We set up housing for bluebirds and martins that feed on bugs.   Bats swoop in from the surrounding forest to snap up the nighttime insects.  We  have an assortment of working dogs, hunters, birders, guarders.. all but the guard dogs are simply (and beautifully) "mutts"... creatures who might otherwise have been euthanized had we not wrapped them under our arms and brought them into our home and onto our farm.  They now live the good life.  I love them so.   I can't impress strongly enough the value of adopting pets from shelters.  These open-hearted animals seem to know you have saved their lives and they carry an unconditional love for you for the rest of their lives.  Look at these faces.  How can you resist?

Quite a matrix of life... all living together in a symbiotic way in this little eco-system we have established, tucked into our little corner of the world.   We live together, sustaining the farm in a way that nourishes us all.

Coming next:
And how is that wine coming along in the basement??
And throughout the quiet winter months... My "Soapbox" Derby