The quality of a wine is determined by the quality of the grapes from which it was made. And the quality of the grapes is predicated on the quality of the hillside where they’re grown. So our goal, then, is to grow grapes on the best possible hillside. That’s why one of the most exciting aspects of the Burnt Hill project is the opportunity to start from a clean slate on an exceptional hillside.
So much about a hill, like soil type and topography, is not easily improved. But there are some things, like biodiversity and soil resiliency, that greatly impact outcomes and can be enriched through thoughtful farming practices, like biodynamics. Developed in 1924, biodynamics was the first of the organic agriculture movements. It treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks.
Think of a farm as a living, breathing organism. Like a human body with a system of organs, a farm is a system of interacting beings, substances and processes. This understanding is a fundamental starting point for biodynamic practices. To help guide our biodynamic program, we've welcomed Joseph Brinkley to our team. Joseph is a viticulturist and biodynamic specialist who has managed the largest certified organic vineyards in the country.
Our purpose, as it relates to Burnt Hill, is growing the highest quality grapes. To achieve this, we must bring balance and health to the soil, plants, and animals that inhabit the farm. So the next few years will be spent getting to know the rhythms of the land. We will till the earth, cultivate biodiverse cover crops, compost, and prepare the foundation for our vineyard. We will begin this journey by focusing on overall soil health.
Here are 4 ways we will achieve healthy soils and a balanced farm system:
Compost is the only way to increase humus in the soil. Without humus, soil is dead. Not all composts are equal, and like wine, to get good compost one must start with good ingredients. The goal here is high quality, soil enlivening, humus-enriching materials with the addition of biodynamic preparations. Raising animals and growing our own ingredients is key to ensure the highest quality compost.
2. Cover Crops
There are several plant ‘types’ we will focus on: legumes, grasses, small grains, brassica, and flowers. In late-summer, we will sow our first mix of daikon radishes, clover, barley, flax and buckwheat into the hillside. The aim is to keep our plantings diverse, knowing that plants feed soil.
3. Field Sprays
Biodynamic preparations add to the life processes of the soil and overall health of the farm. Without these, we won't get the full benefit of the biodynamic method. In time, we will raise our own animals and make our own biodynamic preparations on the farm.
There are many ways to increase plant and animal biodiversity: wild and domesticated animals, trees, hedges, habitat, meadows, etc. Our aim is to creatively build biodiversity on our farm with multiple layers of benefit.
Farming is inherently an exploitative process. This is why we are consciously “giving” to the land before we start “taking.” Our work through time will be based on rhythms and a conscious cultivation of the soil. Observations from time spent on the farm will inform how and where we plant and design this new vineyard and farm.
So here we are at the very start. Now is the time to prepare the farm for success. We will plant our vineyard only when the soil is ready. This Burnt Hill hillside – with all its elements in harmony – has the capacity to yield wines unlike anywhere else on earth. In due time we'll taste and see.