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ABC 7 Regenerative Farming at Grgich Hills Estate

Earth Day: Wineries moving to regenerative farming in Napa, Sonoma

ABC 7 Interviews Ivo Jeramaz, Winemaker and Vice President of Vineyards and Production, Grgich Hills Estate.

ABC 7: Tomorrow is Earth Day and in honor of this special day tonight we’re focusing  on the steps being made in wine country to make farming and production greener.  

  • In fact according to California’s Wine Institute 80% of California wine is made  in 178 certified sustainable wineries.
  • 60% of California’s vineyard acreage is certified sustainable and you can see there has been a big increase of CCSW vineyards and wineries. 

In Napa, Grgich Hills Estate just received the  regenerative organic certification and previously their other certified as  CCOF organic and joining us now live over zoom we have Ivo Jaramaz.

Ivo is the winemaker and vice president of vineyards in production at Grgich Hills Estate and you’re also a Napa Green certified winery. Thank you so much for  being here perfect to talk to you on the eve of Earth Day.

Ivo Grgich Hills Estate: Thank you for  hearing us. 

ABC 7: Ivo we’re talking about regenerative farming how is that different from farming as we know it?

Ivo Grgich Hills Estate: So chemical farming as practiced today  relies on chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides. While it increased production it caused tremendous damage to our soil. So there’s an alternative to chemical farming which is called regenerative farming, which restores  soil health. So the crux of this farming is understanding that plants and  microbes work together.

So our job as a good farmer is to create opportunities for microbes to thrive. How do we do that? Through cover crop: 

In winter our grapevines are dormant but we have an incredible cover crop and nature works  on a principle of symbiosis. So plants through photosynthesis we learned in high school create sugars, carbohydrates and 50% of those are used to feed microbes. So in a natural system you basically use microbes to provide nutrients and protection for plants. That’s why plants are giving up 50% of  food, carbon sugars to microbes.

It’s an incredibly simple yet very effective  system that’s been working for millions of years. 

ABC 7: So you say it’s simple, is it more difficult to farm this way? I guess you know why doesn’t everyone just  switch over to this way because it seems like it’s more environmentally friendly. 

Ivo Grgich Hills Estate: It’s more cost-effective, it’s more profitable because you don’t have  to buy anything. So it’s a mindset like everything else. People do it for 50  years the same way but I think more and more people are taking a look and we are really wanting everybody in the Upper Valley to switch to this farming.

I believe just like look at Tesla and all these electrical vehicles there’s no there’s  no way back. We are moving forward so I’m very optimistic that every day  we’ll find more and more people switching to this natural farming that is not gonna destroy our earth. 

ABC 7: And is this different than organic farming?

Ivo Grgich Hills Estate: Excellent question. So you have to be certified organic before you can be  certified regenerative. So same certified agency CCOF first certifies our organic  practices which in short you cannot use any synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, stuff like that. Then there are two more aspects in regenerative farming which are: you have to involve animals. This is called animal husbandry. In our  case we have cows but also we might have up to 4,000 sheeps grazing our vineyards  in January, February. And third principle, very important one is social justice. So our farm workers many times are abused and neglected.

So if you want to have this certificate you have to provide them with a living wage ,which in  our case is about $23 per hour here in Napa. So that thing that many people say oh my god I can’t afford that I’ll go bankrupt. It’s not true.

What was in our accountant is after one year of this our costs went slightly down even though we increased dramatically pay. Why? Our workers so productive that basically all  this extra cost per hour was made up by more productivity. 

ABC 7: That is so great to hear. It’s a win-win. Before you go in 30 seconds can you tell us does this kind  of farming change the quality or the taste of the wine? 

Ivo Grgich Hills Estate:  Absolutely. You know that one bottle of wine can be $20 or $2,000. Depends on quality of grapes. So  this farming produces far better flavors and grapes which are then converted into  flavors in wine. So I guarantee you that this farming will produce authentic wine.

ABC 7:  That is so great to hear. Ivo and I know you’re mentoring other farmers and  winemakers in the area to help them learn about this and what you’re doing  and I think that’s so great. I know you were at the Napa Rice Symposium a couple  of weeks ago so thank you for sharing and the great work you’re doing and producing great wine. Love that. 

Ivo Grgich Hills Estate:  Thank you so much for having us. 

ABC 7: Of course.

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