Vineyard Thoughts for Earth Day

April 22, 2012–It’s no secret that Silver Thread founder Richard Figiel was an organics enthusiast.  Through most of the vineyard’s history, Richard farmed organically and was even Certified Organic during the 1990’s.  For various reasons, mostly our neighbors’ conventional practices, the vineyard can’t be certified organic anymore.

When we took over in September 2011, we promised Richard we would continue to farm in the most sustainable way possible.  Paul and I have always tried to be environmentally-conscious in our personal lives and we hope to make Silver Thread a model for sustainability in the wine business.  We’re using “eco-series” lightweight glass bottles for the wine, buying wind-energy for our electricity, and using reclaimed materials for our new tasting bar and tasting room decor.  We operate the naturally-climate-controlled tasting room building without air-conditioning (and usually without heat!).

Over the winter, we put a lot of time into developing our vineyard management plan for this year.  When it comes to farming grapes in the humid Finger Lakes, being totally organic is tough.  Richard sacrificed crop yield in order to keep the vine canopy sparse for greater airflow and protection against fungal infection.  Extremely low yields don’t make economic sense unless you can sell your wine for $50 per bottle, which is untenable in the current economic climate.  We’ve decided to seek higher yields from the vineyard this year, and will be taking a more aggressive approach to using fungicides than Richard did.  However, we don’t want to do use hazardous chemicals that might pose risks to the health of the lake or our children.  Luckily, there are several options, such as elemental sulfur sprays, that are effective and fairly harmless to humans and the water supply.

As far as weed control goes, we’re following Richard’s practices of cultivating and mulching.  Mulch was applied between the rows over the winter and weeds will be tackled using a grape hoe and disk.  Most vineyards spray an herbicide such as Round-Up around the base of the vines in order keep weeds at bay.  Although the weeds on our property are pretty aggressive, we’ll attempt to go the non-chemical route.

The disc, or "hill-up" attachment takes out weeds

A vineyard row that has been "hilled down" with the disc for weed control.

For insect control, we’ll employ Integrated Pest Management (IPM) where we scout for insects and only take action when there is a serious threat.  Steely bugs have been feasting on the swollen grapevine buds for a couple of weeks, but not in numbers that post economic risk for us.  So, we’ll just let them be.

Sustainable vineyard management will be a delicate balance, but we’re optimistic that both our vines and our customers will appreciate the results.