One of the first things people notice when visiting Waterfire is that our vineyards do not look how they expected. They look more like a prairie, sometimes they even border on looking like a jungle. It's nothing like the perfectly manicured rows that people generally associate with vineyards.
In the early season we let the grass grow just until it's about to seed and then we mow under and between the rows. In the fall we let the vines grow tall, up and over the trellis instead of hedging them. This allows more leaves to grow for photosynthesis, creating more energy to store over our harsh winters.
So, what do the grasses do?
With most plants, what you see above ground is mirrored below. When we let our grass grow high, it is also sending roots down deep. Roots that tap into nutrients. Roots that support microbial life. Roots that stop erosion. Roots that fight the compaction caused by heavy traffic from field hands, tractors, and other farm equipment.
As the season progresses we continue to mow the vineyard. It's an important step to allow for airflow and sunshine on the vines and developing fruit. High grass makes mowing more of a challenge, but it's important enough to our soil health and biodiversity that we are willing to put in the extra effort. We never use herbicides so hand weeding around the base of each plant is a season-long task. Our goal is to balance what nature dictates our soils need with the needs of our grapevines—a topic for another blog.
Grasses along with wildflowers and other 'volunteer plants' support pollinators, trap carbon, hold moisture and fertilize our soil with organic matter. They work in concert with our vines and the creatures that call the vineyard home, such as habitat for birds, beneficial insects and newborn fawns. They are are part of every single drop of Waterfire Wine.