The Clever Root

Winter / Spring 2016

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W I N T E R / S P R I N G 2 0 1 6 | 3 7 Bob Blue has heard all the prejudices and wrong-headed preconceptions about biodynamic farming. At this stage in his long and illustrious career as a wine- maker, he even feels comfortable enough to joke about them. "They ask me if we drive the tractor naked, things like that. I've heard some good ones," says Blue, Lead Winemaker at Bonterra Organic Vineyards, where he has been working since the Men- docino County winery's first vintage in 1992. The underlying premise of biodynamic agriculture is quite simple, Blue says. "It's all about thinking of the farm in a holistic way. It's about letting people and animals and plants interact naturally to create a healthy and self-sustaining system. When it works the way it's supposed to, I don't have to interfere much at all." Calling his winery a farm reveals a crucial part of Blue's philosophy. Bonterra's three vine- yards—175-acre McNab Ranch, nestled in a box canyon; Butler Ranch, ranging along the sur- rounding foothills at 1,500 to 2,200 feet; and cool, fog-shrouded Blue Heron's Reach —are a far cry from the monoculture practiced by many California grape-growers. Bonterra's Vineyard Director, Dave Koball, has encouraged stands of lavender, olive trees and numerous other plants to thrive throughout the three vineyards. Chickens and sheep roam among the vines, feasting on healthy ground cover between the rows. Boxes for owls and other predatory birds are scattered around the property atop tall posts. The McNab, Butler and Blue Heron vineyards have gone through the painstaking process of biodynamic certification. "Ten percent of the property is kept in a native state," Blue says. "It's crucial to our approach, which is connecting all the systems and making sure they interact fully." "Farming biodynamically isn't a risky venture but rather the future of the industry." The horn of a lactating cow is key to biodynamic preparations that are used as fertilizer and/ or sprays in the vineyards. Sunrise over the Butler Ranch in Mendocino, California.

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