Foundation in Farming at Epoch
At Epoch, we are all about growing wine. As such, we wanted to share with you the overarching concepts of our farming practices and the foundations of what makes Epoch’s wines so special.
First let us share with you where it really starts… the vineyard site! The site where one chooses to plant vines, ultimately, will be the foundation of the array of nuances and complexities found in your glass of wine. An entire region itself, for example Paso Robles, will have commonalities in characteristics that define it as a region in the wine world. However, from site to site within one region, differences of character will be profoundly displayed. Here at Epoch, not only are we lucky enough to farm one specific site, we have two sites within the region which are wildly different from each other. Let’s take a quick minute to introduce them to you:
The Paderewski Vineyard was planted in 2005, consisting of 68 acres of vines with 9 different varieties. The Paderewski Vineyard (or the ‘rewski as we like to call it) is located off of Peachy Canyon Road, approximately 2 miles west of downtown Paso Robles. This unique site is on average about 1200 feet above sea level with steep East and West facing hillsides. The soil of this site is comprised mostly of calcareous limestone rocks surrounded by clay. The Limestone substrates bring a high pH (upper 8’s!) to the soil, which makes for a very difficult farming situation but is also the reason the fruit has great acidity; the pH of the fruit has an inverse relation to that of the soil.
The Catapult Vineyard is located about 5 miles west of the Salinas river, just on the north side of Hwy 46 West. Seven different varieties comprise the total of 30 acres planted here, and this site is hugely dynamic for being fairly small in size. The terrain is basically two entire rolling hills, which give us vineyard blocks of every aspect (sun exposure) – north, south, east and west! Different from the ‘rewski, the soils at Catapult consist mostly of rocky silicious shale surrounded by clay and silt soils that offer a pH in the low to mid 5’s!
These two sites are not exactly what one would call a farmer’s walk in the park. Nutrient rich, heavy soils are great for growing pumpkins but not wine. To put it simply: intense, complex, and awe-inspiring sites make for intense, complex, and awe inspiring wines. It is not that simple of an equation, but it is true as a general statement. Intense, rock-rich sites like our vineyards require a specific farming approach to bring out the best of what they have to offer. We call this specific farming approach our wine growing practices.
Here at Epoch, we have a philosophy that vines produce fruit of the highest quality and the best representation of site when farmed with a low input and low demand approach. What we are referring to in a low input approach is that when it comes to nutrients and water, we have a very conservative stance, only giving the vine as much as it needs to function. Our goal is not for the vine to be lapped in luxury so to speak! Knowing that we are providing our vines with the bare minimum, we pay close attention as to not ask too much of our vines. We take great measures to maintain the amount of foliage, or ‘canopy’, and amount of fruit on each plant early in the season, so we do not over extend or exhaust their capabilities of reaching optimum ripeness. This season-long state of slight struggle allows the vine to work a little harder and put more of its focus on ripening awesome fruit! But what exactly are we doing, or not doing, in order to abide by our low input/low demand philosophy?
This is where our Organic and Biodynamic practices come into play. There are several key reasons as to why we incorporate these practices into our approach. Let’s introduce a few of these to you now and explain their importance to us…
First and foremost, Organics and Biodynamics fit right into our low input/demand mentality. This is due to the fact that the products which are permitted for use within Organic and Biodynamic farming, whether it is for vine nutrition or vine protection, tend to be derived from much softer and natural sources that help remove the threat of negative impacts on fruit quality. In fact, Organic products must pass an inspection and approval process in order to be used within Organic and Biodynamic farming through the independent certifying agent OMRI, Organic Materials Review Institute.
Another reason we incorporate these practices into our farming approach is to keep the health of our vines, soils, and crew in highest regard. We really love the focus these practices have on the health of our soils. Remember earlier how we discussed the soil conditions of our two sites? For us, soil health can be looked at in a two-step fashion. The first step is to stop the degradation of our soils. One way we work toward stopping our soil degradation is by making the choice to not use herbicides in our vineyards. Herbicides are a group of chemicals that are designed to rid the farm of those pesky unwanted plants growing around the vines, aka WEEDS! We all agree that weeds are downright pesky, however, we feel there are alternatives to spraying chemicals in order to control them. Therefore, we have devoted ourselves to perfecting the use of mechanical weed control via the means of an under vine cultivation tool (we can expand on this in a future blog!). The second step is to actually build the health of our soils. We do this through the incorporation of compost and cover crops into our vineyards. Cover crops are a mixture of plants that are seeded intentionally in between the rows of vines and provide a multitude of advantages. Our particular type of cover crop has the unique ability to fix nitrogen (a key nutrient for vines) from the atmosphere into our soil!!! And not only are we using compost as an additional nutrient provider and soil amendment annually, we are also making our own compost on site at the Catapult vineyard! (More to come on cover crops and composting tooJ).
We adore and respect the natural rhythms, and the changing of such, that the vineyard seems to follow season to season and vintage to vintage. When was the last time you heard a fisherman have complete disregard for the phases of the moon, its effect on the ocean’s tide, and thus the effect on how full his nets are? Similarly we feel that Organic and Biodynamic practices help the vines, and eventually the wines, showcase their sense of place and moment in time……………
A true sense of the word Epoch!