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A Leader in Organic Viticulture and Soil Health

Darek Trowbridge, Old World Winery.

"We can't fight industry but we can outperform it."

In Greece, one of the places where wine was first made, the grape harvest and crush were considered a sacred ceremony. The harvest was timed with the stars and included a ceremonial procession with particular harvesting tools and musical instruments. The god Dionysos presided over the event and was invoked during the crush, which was done by people dressed as satyrs who stomped the grapes while shouting the god's name. The act of stomping represented the dismemberment of Dionysos, which aligns with the myth that the god was "twice born". The grape juice bubbling out and expanding in fermentation represented his rebirth (source: Dionysos by Carl Kerenyl).

Fast-forward to modern times, we have much more sophisticated wine production capabilities, but some of the wonder and connection to the land has been lost. We interviewed Darek Trowbridge recently to learn more about the wines he makes at Old World Winery in Santa Rosa which he playfully describes as "ceremonial-grade". Darek started growing grapes and making wine with his family at Martinelli Vineyards. He worked in the fields mixing and spraying pesticides until he realized there was no way to keep himself safe. He later went to college to study viticulture and enology and was disillusioned by his classes, which were preparing him for large-scale industrial production.

Darek was employed in organic winemaking for many years until he was able to start Old World Winery. He took inspiration from his grandfather who would make natural wine; simply-made wine free from commercial additives, as a hobby project. Darek began working with his Grandfather's ailing old vine vineyard in 2008 with a vision to rejuvenate the soil and plants. The oldest grapevine in the world is over 400 years old but grapes in most conventional vineyards only live for about 25 years due to poor soil and frequent fertilizer and pesticide treatments. Darek began experimenting with a fungi-inoculated wood chip compost to add carbon and a healthy microbiome to the soil. Years later, the old vines are 120 years old and thriving.

Darek is now looking to expand and share his wood chip compost with more farms, vineyards, and ranches. With this compost, the organic matter in soil can be rapidly increased to turn a farm into a carbon sequestration powerhouse. Researchers have demonstrated that if we increase the organic matter in our world's farmland by only 0.4% per year, we can completely reverse climate change. Using similar compost strategies paired with no-till farming methods, Sebastopol's Singing Frogs Farm has been able to increase the the carbon in their soil by 400%. Organizations like Zero Food Print are working with restaurants to "help farmers turn bad carbon [in the air] into good carbon [in the soil]."

Darek never uses synthetic pesticides on his vineyards. Industry would lead us to believe that herbicides are not harmful to soil health but Darek knows otherwise. Chemicals like glyphosate (active ingredient in RoundUp) kill most of the beneficial fungi, which have co-evolved with plants. Herbicides like RoundUp damage the natural balance of fungi and bacteria, increasing the bacteria content. Bacterial rich soils do not sequester carbon well, which exacerbates climate change. In healthy soil, the fungi assimilate and break down organic matter to create nutrients that plants can take in. The fungi exchange these nutrients for glucose which the plants produce from photosynthesis. Healthy soil not only combats climate change but also produces more nutrient rich food.

Darek will be one of the panelists at the showing of the documentary Children of The Vine this Tuesday, October 11 at 6:30pm at the Sebastopol Rialto. Click [Here] for more information and tickets.

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