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Friday, February 17, 2012

Our visit to Littorai (a small family owned and operated winery in Sonoma)

During the last day of the MW seminar last week, I had the opportunity to visit Littorai (a small family owned and operated winery producing world class vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs from the north coast of California: the mountains of Sonoma and Mendocino counties) with a fellow MW student (and a good friend) Nick Oakley from the UK. 

In the late 1990s, after more than fifteen years practicing conventional farming, Ted Lemon became convinced that western agronomic theory is inadequate in its conception of plant growth and nutrition and that farming based upon this theory is fundamentally unsustainable. Since that time all of the vineyards which Littorai Wines owns or leases are farmed using alternative (and biodynamic) methods.

As you know, I recently published an article on biodynamics - A mere marketing tool or a fundamental transformation of viticultural practices? - My take on biodynamics. - and it still boils down to this: How biodynamic producers are able to make wines of amazing quality?

Below a few pictures and facts...

The gardens attract insects, humming birds, lady bugs, and bees (picture)

 They are passionate about farming only with natural materials. They believe that this is the starting point for make great wines that express "terroir".

John Winston, their assistant winemaker, took us for a tour of the vineyards and explained a little bit more about the biodynamic preparations (preparing a vineyard for biodynamic grape growing consists of several preparations, many of which use ingredients of animal origin).

Preparation 500 - Cow manure is buried in cow horns in the soil. The manure is then spread over the fields.

 Preparation 501 - Ground quartz is buried in cow horns in the soil. The quartz is sprayed over the vines.

 Preparation 503 - Chamomile flowers are fermented in the soil, and then applied to the compost.

 Preparation 504 - Stinging nettle tea is applied to the compost.

Preparation 505 - Oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal is applied to the compost.

Preparation 506 - Dandelion flowers fermented in cow mesentery is applied to the compost.

Sorry - No picture.
Preparation 507 - Valerian flower juice is applied to the compost.

Preparation 508 - Horsetail tea is applied to the vines.

 Lavender flowers are not a part of any preparation, but it's good to have them because they attract bees and other insects.

The preparations.

Littorai does not employ farm certification systems. That's what they had to say: 
"We don't believe that the true motivation for engaging in sustainable farming practices should not be for marketing purposes but should be for the good of the land, for the good of those who work it and for the future generations to whom it truly belongs."

Well, I still can figure it out how it works... but it surely feels much better to be in their vineyards than in one that is spraying all sorts of chemicals. There's a lot of life in the vineyard and that alone should be enough to honor their efforts. And that is even without mentioning their wines... and they (specially the PInots) are truly amazing!

Our new t-shirt layout is just out... have you seen it?


Sharon said...

I will have to check out this vineyard and their wines.

Unknown said...

As a gardener I'm very interested in reading and practicing, in as far as I can, to stay in tune with nature. We use some of these methods - stinging nettle tea etc. What I find hard to understand is the scale of this - how many cow's horns are required to service a large vineyard and the labour requirements to make these preparations? It is admirable work.
Keep up the good work!

Kent Benson said...

What it really boils down to is the same result can be achieved by simply being organic. There is no evidence to support any additional benefit from all the silly, mystical preparations. If one truly wants to make a pure, unadulterated, non-manipulated wine, why would there be the additional of all these concoctions?

Nick Oakley said...

I am the Nick Oakley that traveled with Luiz to see the vineyard. There is something very comforting about the place. Very 'down-home' but also very professional all at the same time. The lack of tasting notes are down to me, as I lost my notebook somewhere mid Atlantic, returning to UK. But I remember vividly the 2009 Pinot Noir given to us to take away with us; we shared it with three other MW students that night in Yountville, our last evening in California. Deep, quietly powerful wine. Rich cherry and mulberry fruit, with earthy notes. Smooth with very fine tannins, deep and complex. Very well judged and just OOZING quality. The 2008s at the vineyard were fractionally lighter in my view, but we tasted those alone; the 2009 with food, so this may have clouded my judgement. Still, very smart wine.