The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; Be not discouraged – keep on – there are divine things, well envelop’d; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell. ~Walt Whitman
The vineyard we purchased almost 20 years ago, the vineyard in front of my home, has always been a good piece of land. Nice slope on a high up bench, removed from the threat of frost and complex soils formed thousands of years ago from an alluvial fan. The first vineyard planted on this site was Chardonnay, years before we took it over. It was irrigated with overhead sprinklers (the norm in the 1980′s and 90′s), mowed frequently between the rows and sprayed throughout the season to keep any pests, weeds and fungus at bay.
Three years ago this Chardonnay block was showing its age and we decided to replant it. We took the opportunity to replace the overhead irrigation with drip, the first such block at our home vineyard to go through that conversion. Our vineyard practices changed thanks in large part to our new Vineyard Manager Andrew Moon (@Andrew_Tinhorn on twitter) the spraying decreased, and in some cases were eliminated, and the drip no longer watered the mid rows (the land between the vine rows).
70% water savings. Less spraying. All good. But there was still the question of what plants would establish themselves between the mid rows. We are in a desert. Cover crops (the grasses that cover the ground between the rows) don’t just…well…grow.
For two years the once green grass between the vines turned brown in the summer, some weeds moved in, we continued to mow. This spring, when the snow had melted, we saw this on the ground throughout the new Chardonnay block, Draba verna.
Draba verna has the tiniest little wee white flower, that grows naturally in sagebrush country, so it is native to the Okanagan. It also happens to be a “beneficial” in that its presence helps to reduce damage in spring by cutworms that can crawl up the vine and damage the young, tender buds.
Perhaps Draba verna was here all along and we never noticed it when we were watering the thick grasses between the rows. Perhaps it was here before our vineyard was planted in the 1980′s and now has made a return appearance. Or perhaps, it has just found its way onto our land since we’ve changed our farming practices.
Whatever the case, I like what I see. A wee return to natural? We can only hope.