Regenerative Farming with Mother Nature at your Back
From the beginning of the vineyard replanting process, the vineyard managers and I agreed to become as responsible to the environment and vineyard health as possible. We chose to use only organic material on the vines and surrounding hillside and become as regenerative in our farming goals as possible.
I looked into replanting natives and pollinators to bring back the missing native plants for the insects and birds, and was thrilled to receive a grant not only from the Napa RCD for cover crop and wildflower seeds and one from Fish Friendly Farming for culvert repair, but also a big one for native California plant material from the Xerces Society.
With the help of friend and vineyard manager Matt Stornetta and his crew, in the summer and fall of 2022 we installed thousands of feet of drip irrigation, dug almost 1,000 holes along the vineyard perimeter, filled them with compost, surrounded them by cardboard to prevent weeds and planted more than 1,000 California native plants for hedgerows and pollinator plants. The plants came to us in flats that only identified their name, so we had to designate which plants would go where based on their height, width and growth potential. The crew was there at dawn in late October to soak each plug in a picking bin and plant it into the compost mixture in each hole. Then, painstakingly by hand, filling 5 gallon buckets with chips from the burned tees, they mulched around each tiny new plant to prevent weeds from competing. By the spring of 2023, bees, insects and birds were humming on all the flowers and berries, and the vineyard ecosystem was looking alive again. It was a very proud accomplishment.
Dozens of Bluebird houses, shared by Bluebirds, Violet-Green and Tree swallows, an owl box and kestrel perch and nesting box were all constructed and readily filled with happy families, bringing avian life back to the vineyard. As one of the best natural pest control vehicles for herbivorous pests, Bluebirds are also a delight to watch in the vineyard.
Almost all of the large oaks (Valley oak, Coast live oak, Black oak and Blue oak), Douglas fir, Madrone and Big Leaf maple that had been burned and felled started growing back within 6 months, creating bushy bases of shrubs. We sent a crew through twice a year to choose one or two shoots from each tree to become the main trunk, thinning all the other shoots in a laborious process. We even started some of our own acorns to encourage more native oaks on the property, although the leafy shade from their slow growth won’t be felt for many years. Many of the native oaks that we had saved, looking as though they could survive, in the end did not, and we had to fell a few dozen more each year, changing the landscaping even further. While the amount of shade offered for the vineyard crews’ lunch breaks was diminished, the amount of sun on the young vines increased, and led to a far greater potential production than we had had before the fire.
In 2023, we received another grant from Monarchs and More Western Habitat Program for a variety of milkweed plants and pollinator seeds, to be planted in the fall of 2023. With all this new life from native plants, birds and bees, life once again in the vineyard felt very comfortable and rewarding, being surrounded by the natural wildlife and regenerative plantings in conjunction with Mother Nature. Another proud moment for everyone involved.