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Talley Vineyards

Brian Talley, Vintner
June 5, 2015 | Winegrowing | Brian Talley, Vintner

Sustainable and Organic Farming

I often get the question: “What's the difference between organic and sustainable farming?”  As a farmer and winegrower, I would love to grow everything according to an organic ideal where I simply plant a grape vine, harvest the grapes, make wine, and let Mother Nature take care of the rest.  Unfortunately, this ideal doesn’t exist in commercial winegrowing, where we rely on numerous additional inputs to grow grapes and make wine.  The reality is that “certified organic" and "certified sustainable" are designations with specific meanings.  Sustainable farming as reflected in the Sustainable in Practice (SIP)  program, is the more comprehensive program with respect to true sustainability, and therefore the better fit for us.  As they say on their website, “SIP Certified is about great wines, healthy vineyards and the well being of workers.

A mechanical tiller controls weeds without herbicides.  Note the beautiful cover crop, good for soil and beneficials!

At Talley Vineyards and Talley Farms, we strive to do our best with our people, our land and in our community.  This global approach, along with our commitment to preserve and enhance our business for the fourth generation, has lead me to embrace SIP.  The SIP certification consists of an exhaustive audit where all aspects of our operations, including all inputs (water, pesticides and fertilizers), employee welfare, soil health and conservation, air quality, fruit quality, business sustainability and social benefit are considered.  Organic certification focuses much more narrowly on whether or not certified organic pesticides and fertilizers are used. 

Many of the questions about sustainable versus organic farming center on pesticide use.  Most people don’t realize that all commercially grown winegrapes, whether organically or sustainably farmed, are sprayed with pesticides.  The difference is that certified organic grapes can only be treated with certified organic pesticides whereas SIP certified grown grapes can be treated with a wider range of products, all of which must be registered as safe for winegrapes.  The newest generation insecticides more effectively target pests while leaving beneficial insects unharmed.  Many of the old generation certified organic products are broad spectrum insectides that kill a wider range of insects and are more harmful to beneficials.  This is important because beneficial insects play a critical role in protecting our vines. 

My daughters Elizabeth and Olivia Talley, members of our Fourth Generation.

Coastal San Luis Obispo County is blessed with a wonderfully mild climate that allows for the perfect maturation of chardonnay and pinot noir.  It's also an ideal climate for pests like powdery mildew, Botrytis cinerea and vine mealy bug, all of which pose unique challenges to certified organic solutions.  Every great winegrowing region in the world faces its own set of challenges whether it's hail in Burgundy, rain in Oregon or the issues I outlined for our region.  Each winegrower must determine the best methods to face those challenges.  The consensus among my colleagues in our area is that SIP works better for us than certified organic.  Our sustainable approach accommodates the customized farming approach that is critical to our mission of making and sharing distinctive wines that capture the special character of our place.

While I respect those who support the certified organic approach to viticulture, I proudly embrace the SIP designation. My family's commitment to sustainability in our operations is why I feel good about living and working on our land, as do many of our employees.  We’ve sustained ourselves for three generations and now we’re focused on making our place even better for the fourth.


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