Here at Seven Oxen we’re always striving to practice farming techniques that will enhance the health and longevity of our vineyard. We cherish our vines and the quality fruit they generate for our wines, and aim to do everything we can to guarantee they continue to produce wonderful, flavorful grapes. And you can’t have healthy vines without healthy soil.
One of the many fantastic things about having an estate winery is you’re in control of your product all the way down to the microorganisms that feed the vines. And this is one of a number of areas where our Winemaker (who also happens to be our Grape Grower) likes to devote special care and attention. Enter compost tea.
So what is compost tea and why is it important?
Compost tea is a concentrated solution made up of billions of beneficial microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes). Compost tea is made through a process of “brewing” very good compost packed with microorganisms in an aerated water tank. Food for those microorganisms is added to the water during the brewing process, which causes the microorganisms to multiply at a very rapid rate. The result is a nutrient rich liquid resembling weak coffee that can be sprayed directly onto the leaves of the vines or spread on the soil.
Compost tea can have a huge impact on the quality of soil, and therefore, on the health of vines. The tea improves plant nutrition by increasing nutrient retention in the soil and nutrient availability for the vine’s root syste. For the conventional farmer, this could mean no need for harmful chemical fertilizers that actually destroy the beneficial microorganisms in the soil ecosystem. The improved soil structure resulting from the use of compost tea also reduces water loss, cutting back on the demand for irrigation.
When sprayed directly on the surface of a vine’s leaves, the “good” biology contained in the aerated compost tea occupies vulnerable sites on the leaf surface, helping the plant fight off potential diseases like mildew and mold. This reduces (and often replaces) the need to spray organic esticides such as sulphur or disease prevention.
So have we noticed a difference since we started using compost tea? Indeed we have.
We began spraying compost tea in the vineyard in winter of 2014, as soon as our vines dropped their leaves. Over the course of the following year we sprayed the microorganism rich brew once a month, and were able to avoid the use of any additional organic fertilizers or pesticides, including sulfur. Our vines have never looked healthier, and despite low yields in our 2015 harvest (due to extreme heat and drought conditions) our fruit was beautiful. By keeping synthetics and chemicals out of our vineyard, our vines produce fruit that fully expresses the rich, healthy soil of our unique property, which translates directly into the flavor of our minimally processed wines.