Mendocino Coast vineyard is piloting regenerative agriculture certification


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While the concepts behind regenerative agriculture are old, the effort to establish verifiable industry standards for such agricultural practices has grown rapidly in recent years. And a Mendocino County winemaker and winemaker is at the forefront of such a global effort to grow in the wine business.

In the Mendocino Ridge appellation overlooking the northern California coast, Mariah Vineyards is now part of the Savory Institute’s pilot project to adapt its Land to Market third-party verification program to viticulture. Accreditation was received in June and in October the winery released their first wine with this verification mark on the label.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, the principles of regenerative agriculture include “restoring the relationship between people and the land, strengthening soil health, reducing or eliminating the use of harmful chemicals, the cultivation of diverse cultures, the holistic and humane management of livestock, the innovative and efficient use of resources and fair labor practices.

Based in Boulder, Colo., The Savory Institute has confirmed that 39 million acres of farmland is holistically managed in accordance with its Ecological Outcome Verification Protocol, which takes before and after measurements from above ground and above ground. soil health, biodiversity and ecosystem function.

“We were already on the road to regeneration,” said Michael Frey, son-in-law of Dan and Vicki Dooling, who started Mariah in 1979 with the first planting of vines.

Although the vineyard is not certified organic, the family cultivates it according to these standards, like leaving the rows of vines fallow. The property has also been dry cultivated meaning that no additional irrigation is provided during the season.

This has helped during the last two years of drought, as the normal 100-inch annual rainfall the property receives is only 36 inches for the winter and spring of 2020-2021. Wine grape yields for the 2021 harvest were in line with normal, against reductions of up to half in other parts of Mendocino County.

Due to the remote location, at an elevation of over 2,000 feet and about 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the 90-acre property with 30-acre vineyard planted was powered only by solar panels and batteries.

For Mariah, the Land to Market verification process began last year by working with Savor’s only California accreditor at the time, the Jefferson Center for Holistic Management. Since then, White Buffalo Land Trust has also become a Land to Market accreditation center for the Golden State.

The process took a few days of basic on-site testing and investigation, including samples of soil cores and assessment of how water seeps through the soil. Verification visits will take place every three years and then every five years thereafter.

The family received a $ 5,000 grant to cover the costs of the tests, with the obligation to take online courses in holistic financial management, grazing and ecosystem management.

One of the most important changes the family made after the first visit was to stop mowing under the vines, letting the vegetation grow, her daughter Nicole Dooling said.

David Rizzo, COO of Land to Market, said the wine business is only part of the role agriculture can play in sequestering the gases responsible for climate change and restoring soil .

“It requires action and the support of wine consumers,” Rizzo said in a statement. “The Land to Market verified seal lets consumers know that their purchase of Mariah Vineyards wines is having a positive impact on the planet. “

Consumer interest in certifying wineries and vineyard sustainability practices is growing, according to a study commissioned by San Francisco-based industry advocacy group Wine Institute. More than two-thirds (71%) of American wine drinkers surveyed in early 2020 said they would consider purchasing sustainably produced wine.

And millennials led other age groups in the poll as to whether sustainably and ecologically produced wine warrants a higher price, with 9 in 10 “willing to pay” more for it. And that bonus was $ 3 per additional bottle for all age groups.

The survey found that Millennials and Generation Z drinking-age adults were most interested in sustainable wine certification.

The US wine industry already has several certification programs related to sustainability. California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, a spin-off company of the Wine Institute, has been certified as sustainable. Sonoma County winemakers and the California Land Stewardship Institute have created a climate adaptation certification. The institute operates the Fish Friendly Farming program. The other programs are Napa Green Winery, Napa Green Vineyard, Sustainability In Practice and Lodi Rules.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Prior to the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He graduated from Walla Walla University. Contact him at [email protected] or 707-521-4256.

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