The farming philosophy at Phelan Farm is rooted in preserving and expressing our unique site’s natural state. Through observation and by treating the land with love and respect we ensure that our vines thrive in tandem with the diverse species of microbes, plants, and animals that compose
To best achieve this, we’ve created our own natural farming model, a synthesis of techniques gleaned from several schools of agricultural thought—including permaculture and biodynamics—and the teachings of innovators who inspire us, such as Masanobu Fukuoka and Dr. Elaine Ingham
We continually strengthen the vineyard through various means aimed at diversifying its microbial life. To increase organic matter levels, we add compost from our sheep and chickens, who also roam the vines, acting as natural lawnmowers and weeders. These helpful animals are lovingly defended by our two Maremma dogs, Fleurie and Leroy.
We create ferments to spray on the vines from a panoply of native plants—nettles, willow bark, oak bark, milk thistle, Lupin, Honey, Thyme and horsetail. These treatments also may include (some foraged and others purchased locally) kelp, seaweed, Pacific ocean water, fish bone emulsion, and milk from a local cattle farmer. By applying these homemade treatments throughout the season, we strive to create a healthy ecosystem for the vines, which fortifies the equivalent of the plants’ immune systems. A complex and diverse microbial population is the best defense against problematic fungal populations. Instead of working with hindsight to ‘fix’ a problem, we rather focus on the farm as an entity, working holistically to provide support for its overall health. No sulfur or copper are used on our property.
“By applying these homemade treatments throughout the season, we strive to create a healthy ecosystem for the vines, which fortifies the equivalent of the plants’ immune systems.”
Since it was planted in 2007, the vineyard has been managed according to a no-till philosophy. By leaving the soils unopened and by eschewing synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides, we ensure that the complex mycelium living beneath the soil is undisturbed. This ‘world wide web’ of the fungi kingdom is crucial to the overall health of the site, ensuring that the vine roots symbiotically coexist with their subterranean neighbors. While the vine roots feed the fungi precious carbon from the air, the fungi in turn make soil nutrients available to the vines. By leaving our soils untilled, we also aim to do our bit in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
Similarly, by working with local produce, we ensure our carbon footprint is kept to a minimum. Our sprays are administered by a lightweight RTV (instead of a heavy tractor). Next year we look forward to including the electric (and light) Monarch tractor.
Above all, we believe in minimizing our human impact as much as possible. By eschewing monoculture, we embrace the full complexity of Mother Nature in a vineyard environment. By making our touch as light and gentle as possible, we can guarantee the health of this place for future generations, while making delicious wines and cider as we go.