In its current configuration, Dodon is composed of roughly 400 acres of woodland, 70 acres of pasture, 70 acres of cropland, and 15 acres of “farmstead” – houses, barns, sheds, roads, and other non-tillable areas. First planted to tobacco, and in later years corn and soy beans, the cropland was badly eroded, especially in the northeast part of the farm where the slopes are steep and soils sandy. In response to this problem, the family slowly reduced acreage in row crops, substituting pasture and adding hay as a crop. We completed this transition in the summer of 2009 when the last of the row crops – a stand of winter wheat – was harvested and the vineyard fields were prepared.
In creating the vineyard, we worked with experts from across the world to select the best site, to develop appropriate nutrient management strategies, and to establish sound conservation practices. Our philosophy is simple – to produce wines that reflect Dodon’s character and heritage, to enhance the diversity of life throughout the site, and to achieve these goals using natural processes whenever possible. This philosophy means that we think critically about the environmental consequences of everything we do so that we become part of, and not disruptive to, nature’s balanced rhythms. It also means that we are not dogmatic about a particular practice. If we’re convinced that a synthetic material is less intrusive on the environment than the organic alternative, then that’s what we use. A few of our practices follow.
- We use as few off-farm inputs as we can, using instead the products of our labor, and nature’s, to create a sustainable environment. We recycle and reuse almost everything, turning fallen trees into furniture and firewood, grape skins and horse manure into compost, and table scrapes into chicken feed.
- We conserve the soil by creating a dense cover crop throughout the vineyard, using a mixture of grasses to achieve our goals – clover to fix nitrogen, rye to break up compaction and restore organic matter, and three types of fescue to stand up to the weight of the tractor throughout the growing season.
- We stimulate diverse, healthy bacterial growth in the soils by giving them the right kinds of food. For example, by adding crab meal in the spring, we encourage growth of Streptomyces griseus that in turn produces a chitinase active against powdery mildew, a common fungal disease.
- We encourage natural predators against insect pests by planting wild flowers that provide natural habitat and avoiding broad spectrum insecticides – including most organic oils that are as harmful to beneficial insects like lady bugs and praying mantises as they are to pests.
- We oriented the vineyard in a way that maximizes airflow and sunlight that naturally dry morning dew, prevents mildews, and reduces the need for pesticides. This natural orientation is supplemented by careful canopy management and leaf stripping.
- We use targeted tillage rather than herbicides to control weeds in the vineyard. Simply put, tillage works well, gives us the ability to remove only those weeds that are causing problems, and isn’t subject to resistence.
- We minimize use of pesticides through healthy soils and vines, intense canopy management, and grassed buffers between the vineyard and nearby woods. If a pesticide application is necessary, we use the most environmentally sound material available; most are organic. We are careful to apply the minimum rate necessary to achieve control, and we use a tunnel sprayer that recycles pesticide material, significantly reducing release into the surrounding environment.
Many of our environmentally sensitive practices also improve the quality of our wines. Living soils make complex flavor molecules available and speeds ripening, open canopies also enhance ripening, gentle surface tillage encourages deep roots that add flavor molecules and help with draught. It’s hard work, much of it by hand, but well worth the effort.