Organic Chambourcin Grape Bunch from Gascony Vineyards
The History of Gascony Vineyards by Drs. Tim Ley & Trish Hohn
Gascony Vineyards was incorporated in 2004 by Trish Hohn and Tim Ley. After years of sampling a variety of Missouri wines from a large number of wineries, they decided to grow a French-American hybrid, Chambourcin, on their farm in the Ozark Highlands appellation of Missouri. Trish took vineyard management classes, and became very discouraged when she learned of the large numbers of rots, mildews, and pathogens that need to be controlled in vineyards here, because of the warm, moist climate; most commercial vineyards use a variety of chemical fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides to control pathogens and pests. When inquiries were made about potential organic alternatives, nothing but discouraging words were heard: there were no certified organic vineyards in Missouri.
Tim and Trish decided to perform an experiment to determine whether an organic vineyard here was possible. They were buoyed by the knowledge that vines have been productively grown in Missouri since the mid-1800s, when all viticulture was "organic"; they also received help and encouragement from organic viticulture experts at Penn State University. They spent two years selecting and preparing a site on their farm with perfect "aspect" for growing grapes. The vineyard is set at the top of a hill with a gentle southeastern slope. It has excellent drainage and a steady southern breeze that dries out the vines and grapes every morning before nine, a key to reducing disease burden. The plants and rows run with the prevailing breeze, and are well-spaced to reduce stress on the soil. The high canopy is extensively hand pruned to promote vine health. All diseased leaves, shoots, and fruit are removed from the vineyard.
The vineyard floor is covered with a variety of nitrogen-fixing legumes to enrich the soil and completely prevent wind and water erosion. Irrigation of the vines is provided by a deep well in the vineyard, and is a drip system that is only run at night to minimize evaporation. All products used in the vineyard are organic--from composted poultry manure and kelp tea for nutrients, to the materials used to prevent rots and mildews (organic stylet oil, yucca extract, baking soda, and organic pathogens that prevent fungal diseases). Weeds that compete with the vines are controlled by the use of organic clove and wintergreen oils. Insects are controlled by nesting bluebirds, king birds, purple martins, chimney swifts, phoebes, and barn swallows. Although some of the grapes will be consumed by our wild neighbors, a Chinese organic farmer summed up our attitude towards this: "a third of my vegetables are for the insects, a third for the animals, and a third for me. If I only feed the humans, springtime will be silent, in a world where I don't wish to live".
Two years and three months after planting 2,000 vines, the first harvest of nearly a ton of beautiful, healthy Chambourcin grapes became reality in early September of 2008. The vineyard organic certification plan is now complete for 2009, in accordance with the stringent federal standards, and we are awaiting our official "certified organic" designation.