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Time: Early 1990.
Place: A Portland area wine shop.
Event: A conversation between an organic grower and his friend, a wine merchant.

"Organic, huh," the merchant says. "Yea, when I was in the produce business, the organic produce was what we called all the stuff that fell off the back of the truck."

True enough, there was a time when scars and bruises just about the only things that distinguished "organic" produce. But over the last ten years teams of growers, scientists, grocers, marketers, federal and state officials have been hammering out precise criteria for any product that claims the organic label. They are now putting the finishing touches on national standards and procedures that define "organically grown" right down to the last syllable in any new chemical's name.

It is all about truth in labeling and the consumer; a guarantee that if the label says it's an organically grown product, the consumer can rest assured it was grown in a particular way...that it has been exposed to a precisely defined regime of substances and handling...and that records exist to prove it

.A single, consistent body of global standards is taking shape. For some years now there has been a network of monitors; inspectors who walk the world's fields, farms, orchards and plantations and who work to ensure that "organic" means the same thing in Connecticut as in Costa Rica.

Doug Tunnell at Harvest Time
The foundation of the organic claim is the following broad definition of organic farming issued by the Department of Agriculture: "Organic farming is a production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely on crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off farm organic wastes and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients and to control insects, weeds and other pests...The concept of soil as a living system is central to this definition."

The current edition of the standards and procedures manual of the oldest certifying agency in Oregon grew from 50 pages in 1994 to 129 pages in 1998, not counting subsequent updates on new products and processes. A corresponding, on-line index of brand name products approved for organic producers is growing exponentially. In order to market any produce-- including winegrapes-- as "organically grown" all operations in the vineyard must comply with the practices outlined in the standards manual. All sprays and fertilizers, even the material used for trellis posts must be within the guidelines.

It is not that farming a certified organic vineyard is any more difficult than its conventional counterpart. But it is a very different project, requiring a distinctly different mind set. Here in the Willamette Valley we are blessed with bountiful rain, and cursed by aggressive grasses and unwanted weeds that thrive as a result.

Our moist climate presents the challenge of fungal diseases every season. The organic growers combats these with old fashioned sprays...principly sulfur in its various forms and applied in precise quantities at the correct moments.

Every year special attention is given to cover crops. We vary them, planting crimson clover one year, Austrian winter pea and oats the next. All are eventually incorporated into the soil to add a rich mixture of nitrogen, other important nutrients and organic matter on an annual basis.

There is little doubt about the importance of soil health for farmers everywhere. But for grape growers there is emerging evidence that soil health may be an issue of life and death.

A growing body of research indicates that the roots of organically farmed grapes are less vulnerable than those of conventionally grown vines to the pathogens that prey upon grape roots in the wake of a phyloxerra infestation (see Lotter, Granett &Omer, HortScience 34(6) 1999) Further the researchers hypothesize that the use of certain herbicides may contribute to the conventionally farmed grape roots vulnerability.

We are at a point in history when some of the Pacific Northwest's most vital watersheds are in jeopardy. Non-point pollution from agricultural runoff accounts for more than 50% of the pollutants in the Willamette River above Portland. A recent U.S. Geological Survey of river samples found residues from 29 herbicides and 7 insecticides basin wide. Nitrate levels and water temperature exceeded state standards in a number of locations.

The waters of the Willamette basin were once one of the world's greatest inland salmon spawning grounds. While the pulp mills and industrial sites along the river's banks are fairly closely monitored today, farm runoff is not. It accounts for up to 60 % of the pollutants in the Willamette and its tributaries.

As one extension agent who has worked in the Willamette Valley for many years told a group of food industry leaders in 1998, " Everyone agrees more sustainable farming is where we are going...it's just a question of how we are going to get there."

For the valley's grape growers, we believe the question really isn't " Why organic ?" The question is " Why not?"

Welcome to Brick House VineyardsPinot Noir - Pommard - Les DijonnaisChardonnayGamay NoirVisit the Farm and a Virtual TourCertified Organically Grown GrapesSourcing InformationHow To Order WineNeed More Information - Let Us Know
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