Our move to organic farming, beginning in 2008, has brought our vineyard management techniques in line with our traditional winemaking practices, which employ only the non-invasive treatments used in fine winemaking prior to prohibition. We call this winemaking approach “pre-industrial.” Dating back to the earliest days of Ridge, we have always believed that a wine is far more interesting and meaningful when it reflects a single place and a natural process. If a natural winemaking path is followed throughout fermentation, aging and bottling, we believe that wine will display greater quality, character and sense of place than one subjected to various human interventions. When natural yeasts and natural malolactic bacteria are allowed to work their wonders on, respectively, the primary and secondary fermentations, the finished wine is likely to possess more character, complexity and depth; greater aging potential; and a better sense of place.
Of course, none of this is possible without distinctive fruit from exceptional vineyards. At Ridge, we believe that farming organically is the path to take in order to grow the superior grapes needed to make world-class wine. This philosophy requires that we maintain certain principles in the vineyard: biodiversity, ecological balance, sustainability, natural pest management and soil integrity.
Beyond the requirements of organic certification, we strive to limit “inputs” into the vineyard. For example, we seed the vineyard with non-vine plants that attract and supply food for beneficial predatory insects, thus tipping the scales of the natural predator-prey relationship against insects that could potentially damage the vines. This mitigates the need to apply an insecticide that might cause harm to non-targeted species, such as bees. It also removes the possibility that any insecticide residue could be present during harvest.
While it is important to focus on the vines and other aspects of farming above the ground, maintaining soil health is just as critical to an effective farming operation, organic or otherwise. In order to preserve soil structure, Ridge only cultivates every other row between grapevines, where cultivation is possible. On steep terrain or terraces, cultivation is not an option as erosion caused by winter rains would wash away topsoil. At both our winery facilities, we collect the stems and pomace left over from wine production to make organically certified compost. The compost is applied as needed to certain sections of the vineyard when our standard winter cover crop (triticale and two species of legumes, all organically sourced), does not fully satisfy the nutritional needs of the vines.
It’s rare for a winery to make more than a dozen barrels of wine using such a natural approach, taking sustainably and organically grown grapes and turning them into wine using just “pre-industrial” winemaking methods. Ultimately, the ends justify the means, because wines made in this fashion better express their provenance and thus are far more gratifying to make and drink than using industrial methods to concoct a simple beverage made from grapes.