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Winemaker Charles Reviews a Year of Organic Farming…

The year 2018 draws to a close, officially marking the finale of De Toren’s second year of the required three-year organic conversion period. In light of this, we review another successful year of organic farming by answering a few of the frequently asked questions…

Why the decision for De Toren to convert to organic farming practices?

Organic farming resonates with the ideology of supporting an ecosystem that is healthy. This harmonious ecosystem starts with the soils, first and foremost. Healthy soils are balanced and self-sustainable and in time reflect exactly those traits in the plants, or in this case the vines growing in these soils. Healthy plants are more resilient, self-sufficient (as nature intended) and less reliant on human intervention. Hence, the reason for our decision to convert to the principles of organic farming.

Our long-term goal is thus to grow healthy, sustainable plants that will deliver complex grapes to ultimately craft the best version of our terroir-driven wines. This has been part of our vision and mission since inception.

What were the most challenging aspect(s) of this 2nd year of organic wine growing conversion?

The first year was an immense learning curve in terms of the knowledge gained of biological systems and a huge growing curve to improve the skills of our team in predicting the season, i.e. the weather in the shorter term and its potential after-effect (good or bad) on the ecosystem and as a result the vines. Organic farming, especially during the transition phase has very limited margin for errors. That is exactly the reason for the existence of jokes such as ‘the difference between a good organic farmer and a poor one is only one day’.

The general consensus is that even in the short amount of time that we have been completely organic, a great amount of natural biological defences against insects and diseases have been activated and the season has shown great progress with very little challenges.

Any noticeable differences in the vineyards when comparing year 1 & year 2 of organic farming?

Softer, more favourable weeds are starting to develop in our soils, instead of the usual harsh or hardened weeds. The soils also show much more vibrancy and life and the natural predatory insects are definitely actively inhabiting our ecosystem.

To reach the optimum level of self-sustainability and balance, referred to previously, is a 4 to 5-year process. That being said, to already be able to see the progress on a daily basis in the vineyards, after a mere 2 years of dedicated organic farming, is truly heart-warming and extremely exciting (for a winemaking & viticulturist team at least)!

Any unexpected happenings during this season?

Early Spring, we experienced some very unfavourable weather with quite a bit of rain pouring down. This weather is just too perfect for the inception of Downey Mildew, a disease of the foliage, caused by a fungus-like (Oomycete) organism. It is spread from plant to plant by airborne spores. It is a disease of wet weather since infection is favoured by prolonged leaf wetness. It was however brilliant to observe how effectively our team was able to control it due to correct timing of sprays, but as I would like to believe, also the visible resistance from the plants already.

What are the next steps following year 2 of De Toren’s organic conversion?

For 2019 we identified two key strategies for areas that show unbalanced tendencies and could thus do with some improvement.

The first one is the optimization of mechanical movement on our soils. Due to the nature of organic farming and its constant demand for more frequent action to be taken to continuously prevent, eliminate and fight off any disasters, it requires more mechanical movement on the soils. This has prompted our team to start investigating effective ways of using each movement to multi-task and also to mechanise any key processes, whilst still ensuring we do it as good or even better and gentler than it would have been done by human actions.

 

The other area that we would like to reinforce in the short run is the introduction of organic material and mulches in the soils. Although we are already focussing on this, it is possible to intensify this process through means of the mechanization mentioned above.

 

With all this said, all the challenges, the new learnings, the sometimes-foreign territory, this is an extremely exciting time for the winemaking and viticulture team of De Toren. There is nothing like getting out of your comfort zone to get you to think differently again, instil renewed energy and passion and take what you do every single day to the next level. On to 2019, the concluding year of De Toren’s organic conversion period of three years!

 

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