The Sec Wines Blog

This is the blog for Sec Wines in Portland, OR by Eric Pottmeyer. The posts are generally about wine, wine personalities and the wine market with food creeping into posts every now and then.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What the Walla Walla? A new angle on sustainable farming in Wine Country.

After seventeen years in the wine industry as a retailer, fewer and fewer things are new and surprising.   I just got back from my first trip to Washington state's premier wine growing AVA, Walla Walla Valley.  I  expect to learn new things whenever I visit a wine region, but what I learned on this trip came as quite a surprise.  Sure, I learned a little bit about how several very good wineries make their wine, and got to see the lay of the land and where some of the better known vineyards are, but what I found most interesting, I learned from a guy who makes a special kind of compost and something called "Earth Tea."  My teacher that day was Earth Tea Brewer  Rick Trumbull.  Rick is a former chemical salesman turned vineyard naturopathic doctor.

Mr. Trumbull is a very thoughtful man who cares deeply for the Walla Walla Valley, its soil and the vineyards that have brought this corner of southeastern Washington great fame in the wine world.   For generations before vinifera grapes were grown here, wheat was, and still is, farmed throughout the Walla Walla Valley.  Like many other mono agricultures, growing wheat year after year took its tool on the soil.  Rather than dump chemicals into the soil to try and "fix" it, Mr. Trumbull is trying to rehabilitate the soil by providing a hospitable atmosphere (the aerobic compost) for the "biology" of healthy soil to take hold and nurse the soil back to health.  The healthy biology of the soil is reintroduced by a treatment of Vinea  Earth Tea.

Vinea's Earth Tea is a concoction of aerobic compost, worm casings and molasses (food for the organisms in the compost) brewed in aerated water.  According to Mr. Trumbull, there are over 1,000,000 living organisms in one teaspoon (surely he must have meant tablespoon) of his Earth Tea.  The purpose of introducing all these micro organisms into the vineyard soil is so that "the good organisms in the soil can 'out-compete' the organisms that cause vine disease and add vigor to the vines making them healthier" Mr. Trumbull said.  Another important effect is that vines can better withstand the extreme heat and cold of eastern Washington.

Interesting, but it doesn't really mean much to have me shake my head and nod in approval.  More importantly, a growing number of wineries and vineyard owners are plunking down their money and investing in their vineyards well-being through Vinea's compost and Earth Tea program.  I spoke with Norm McKibben and Jean-Francois "J.F." Pellot, owner and winemaker respectively of Pepper Bridge Vineyard and Winery as well as co-owner and winemaker Gordy Venerri of Walla Walla Vintners Winery who all believe that Vinea's compost & Earth Tea program has produced positive effects in their vineyards and plan to continue their use of the Vinea program.  A growing number of Walla Walla Valley vineyard owners and wineries are using the Vinea program in addition to the above mentioned including Amavi, Leonetti, Reinenger, Woodward Canyon and others.

What does the consumer of Walla Walla Valley wines get out of all this?  Well, besides the warm-fuzzy feeling of being a part of and supporting a new form of sustainable agriculture that eschews nasty chemical-driven farming, they are also drinking wines that are better than ever due to healthier vines and vineyards.  This was evidenced as I sampled a wide rage of wines and styles on my visit.  From the big, rich, polished Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots from Pepper Bridge to the complex, well-balanced and food-friendly wines of Walla Walla Vintners to the classy stable of wines from Reininger, Walla Walla wines have never been better.