In California’s wine country, winter is a time when brown slopes turn green and vineyards turn green with a “cover crop.” CC can be a misnomer as nothing is harvested in the “cover crop”. In the vineyards you can see this cover crop between the rows of vines.
In the late 70s or early 80s (exact dates are difficult to pin down), some vineyards appeared to be flooded with what appeared to be weeds. In fact, CCs help weed out between rows. The striking colors of the vegetation were not weeds; rather, a sophisticated blend of herbs, beans, oats, barley, peas, mustard plant seeds. The CC seeds were planted between the rows of vines with great foresight.
Vineyard growers knew in the late 1970s that this CC improved grape production for several reasons. In an agricultural setting alone, the benefits of a vineyard cover crop include:
When they are re-tilled in the soil, they increase organic matter and available nitrogen.
Improve the habitat of earthworms and beneficial microorganisms.
Brings deep-rooted minerals to the surface.
Improves the penetration of water, roots and air into the soil.
Increases the moisture retention capacity of the soil.
Break up compacted subsoil
Provides aesthetic value and color.
Provides a habitat for beneficial vineyard insects.
Drown the weeds
Some research indicates that the nutrients in CC have a positive impact on the aromas and flavors of wine.
Many people drive down picturesque vineyard roads and never notice the CC of the vineyard or even the purpose of the plant material growing between the rows.
Bill Frick is a small Sonoma County winemaker who owns a boutique winery and vineyard. On a winter visit to see Bill, I told him about the “weeds” growing between the rows of his vineyard. After an incredulous look of disbelief at the comment, Bill explained: “I spend a lot of time and money planting a perfect mix of seeds that will grow what you call weeds. I think it is important for all vineyard owners to winter plant crops of mulch to add nutrients to the soil, eliminate erosion and optimize moisture retention during the winter rainy season. ” I found that Bill’s seed mix costs about $ 0.80 per pound and his goal is to use 100 pounds per acre of vineyard.
Bill’s CC is a hybrid seed blend that enhances the quality of the grape and ultimately the wine. This happens by increasing nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil of CC plants. The vines need what these plants produce just before they come out of dormancy. Ultimately, the combination of multi-seeded plants are cut and grown in the ground. Plants produce more nutrients than vines need to produce grapes. Nitrogen production is the process that begins in early winter.
LeBallisters Seed and Fertilizer in Santa Rosa, CA serves the vineyard business. They advertise that a special seed mix for planting a vineyard can range from $ 0.50 to $ 0.6 per pound, and organic seed mixes cost from $ 0.70 to $ 0.80 per pound. The recommended application is 50 to 75 pounds per acre of vineyard. (Vineyard acres are less than area acres; only the area planted between rows constitutes one acre of vineyard.) Interestingly, most of the seeds that make up a vineyard cover crop mix are grown in California’s Central Valley.
I remember being taught that good conservation used techniques like crop rotation and planting crops that helped control soil erosion; remember the pictures from the Dust Bowl. Cover crops are not really new to agriculture and date back to Roman times. Virtually all crops can use the cover growing process. In California’s wine country, cover crops are very important for conserving water, controlling erosion, and minimizing the use of fertilizers; also adhering to the dictates of organic farming. Interestingly, it is reported in “Successful Farming Magazine-2008; a family farm in North Dakota began using cover crop techniques to improve corn production. Additionally, biodynamic agriculture, introduced in Germany in the 1920s, promotes Cover crops in the wine business. Benzinger Winery “was the first to try biodynamic agriculture in 1995.
Finally, the ecological benefits of cover crops have already been noted. However, there are ongoing research projects from UC Davis and Oregon State University on aromas in wine. The chemistry that makes the aromas in wine come from CC? One of the main benefits of CC is the added nitrogen that reaches the roots of the vine. Nitrogen is an important component for adding aroma to wines and impacts flavors.
A study from Oregon State University says: “The quality of grape and wine can be manipulated by managing the vineyard cover. Each vineyard is unique and the management of the cover crop (seed mixtures) will depend on many factors, such as the type of soil, the slope, the density of the vine, the availability of water, nutrients of the soil “.
“Wines from cover crop treatments contain higher levels of all aromatic compounds. Therefore, it can be inferred that cover crops should positively contribute to the aroma and ultimately the overall quality of the wine.” , says Becca Yeamans-Irwin, The Academic Wino, Aug. 3. 2011.