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Know Your Farmer | Frey Vineyards, California

The Frey family has been farming in Redwood Valley, California since 1980. Eliza Frey, winemaker at Frey Vineyards, says that healthy and diverse soil profiles are the basis of their wine quality.

Eliza Frey: One of the reasons that we want to be part of the Real Organic Project is just to make sure that organic farming literally keeps its roots in the soil.

Farm Overview and Organic Methodology at Frey Vineyards, California

We farm about 325 acres of grapes, and that is about a third of our production. Some of our fruit is bought from other vineyards in the area, so in total, we are sourcing from around 1,000 acres. We are lucky that here in Mendocino County we have the highest percentage of certified organic vineyards in terms of our acreage.

Our grapes are not fertilized beyond working with soil fertility. We incorporate a small amount of compost every couple of years, and cover cropping is our main fertility method. But we’ve noticed that with a little bit lower fertility, you often get a nicer quality in the grapes. The vines need to work a little harder in order to get what they need, but then the flavor and the quality is better.

One of the things that is rather unique about our winery is that we are both grower and processors certified organic. In order to use the term “organic wine,” the grapes obviously have to be grown organically, but then the whole process of the wine making has to be certified organic too. So that means you cannot use any synthetic additives or processing aids or preservatives. That is important to us – that we carry it all the way through, both the grower and processor certified organic.

Nutrition Starts with the Soil

One of the main reasons that people are drawn to organics is for health – their body health and the health of the planet. There is a lot of research to come in the next few years about the nutritional qualities that soils can bring into food and then pass on to people.

Soil is the base of the quality of our wine. A term that a lot of people are familiar with in wine is terroir, which is the unique quality given to the grapes and wine from the land where it is grown. California is pretty young (geologically) with a lot of tectonic movement, so we have a wide variety of soil compositions. Even though most of our vineyards are within about 20 to 30-mile range, we have many different soil profiles.

I am personally passionate about the whole concept of soil health and the mysteries beneath the soil. Soil science was seen as something that was inorganic for so long in the history of agriculture. There was the belief that the different soil components and nutrients were static, and in order to remediate something, you just add more of another. There is a huge body of research and experience that has been growing over the last several years that says that it is the life in the soil that really dictates the whole nutrient flow.

There is no lack of nutrients or minerals in the soil. There is plenty of nitrogen there, there is plenty of phosphorus, there is plenty of potassium, there is plenty of everything you need, and what a lot of soils lack is just the biology to access it.

Photos courtesy of Frey Vineyards

Decreasing the Carbon Footprint

Many people are not aware of the role of organic farming in topics like climate change and the carbon footprint of agriculture. The carbon footprint of a lot of the inputs that are used in conventional agriculture is really vast, and that is something that I have just started learning over the last decade or so. It is not only the distance that your food needs to travel to get to you, but all of the inputs on the farm had to come from somewhere as well.

Really focusing on the hydroponics – it is just a full-on input system. Whereas if you grow in healthy soils and have that biology, you don’t need all of those inputs. The soil food web will take care of a lot of that. So we want to harness that and work with nature.

Creating Community

One of the beautiful things about people getting more educated about some of the issues in [organic certification] is the sense of community that is fostered. It takes a little bit more vigilance and research on the part of the consumer, but there is also a lot to be gained with having relationships with your farmer and knowing where your food comes from. It is one of the things lot of small vegetable farmers that I know talk about – just that sense of community and that sense of camaraderie that happens when you know where your food comes from. It is really enriching to the human spirit and something that we can all strive for a little more.

I do still feel like the USDA Organic label is probably your best assurance if that is all that you have. It will be exciting to see more and more products with the Real Organic label on them, which gives people another lens into their choices.

Photos courtesy of Frey Vineyards

Updates from Frey Vineyards, California: Rebuilding After Wildfires

In 2017, we had wildfires that came through Redwood Valley and burned down our winemaking facility, all of our corporate offices, and a bunch of homes of the different family members in the Frey family. So, one of the responses to that is a whole rebuilding effort. People are building new homes and we are building a new winery. This is going to be a crushing facility where grapes are brought from our own farms and from the farms that we buy from. It will also be a processing and bottling facility. We will have all of the presses, tanks, and everything that we need to make and bottle our wine. Our offices will also be here. Ever since the fires happened, we have been disjointed. We had an office rental in the nearby town and a modular office. It’ll be nice to regroup and be here together – we’re very excited about that.


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