When we saw Benton-Lane vineyard for the first time we thought we had won the lotto. It was an old sheep ranch called Sunnymount, and we learned the name was due to a mountain to the west that protected the ranch from winter storms. This mountain carves the rain clouds sending them south and north while the ranch is bathed in sun.
The elevations for our vineyard are perfect. The vineyard begins well above the fog of the Willamette Valley, and ends well below the wind line, where high winds impair ripeness. The land slopes gently to the south and east so the chilly air drains off instead of frosting the vines. The earth is made up of well-drained brick red soils. These soils drain quickly after a rain so the vines don’t sit in water, but instead search for it, and in the process, uncover new areas of nutrition. The drainage is so good that we can usually be on the tractor the day after a big rain.
When I owned a vineyard in Napa the custom was to prevent weeds from growing under the vine by spraying the ground with chemical pre-emergent’s. This reduced competition with the weeds and made the vineyard look “orderly”. I used this method when I started my vineyard in Oregon and my colleagues suggested I stop poisoning my land and learn about Mycorrhizae. These are little fungi that chew up organic material so the vine roots can assimilate the nutrients. They were trying to help my vines and I had been poisoning them. So I learned how to help these little guys. We learned that bio-diversity helps them prosper so we planted lots of beneficial plants in the vineyard including crimson clover, vetch, English peas, oats, fava beans, annual rye and legumes. Then we disc them into the soil. Soon we saw our vines get healthier. The leaves became bright green, they began to grow more actively and were less susceptible to disease. Our vineyard was less "orderly", but much healthier.
Benton-Lane has designed its own system for caring for its land which incorporates the best parts of the Sustainable, Organic and Bio-dynamic methods. This program was designed after seven years of certification under the LIVE sustainability program. During this time we began to realize that no one program was ideal in preserving and protecting our land. So we took the best parts of each program, added some measures of our own and gave birth to our own system of ensuring the health of our vineyards. To learn more about how we care for the land see the section "Care of the Land".