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Farming With Nature: Organic Winegrowing in Mendocino County

The Issue

Since the early 1990s, Mendocino winegrowers have been converting large acreages to organic farming. Impressed by early experiments in other crops such as vegetables, they worked to improve their land, their fruit quality and their image in the market. However, concerns about soil fertility, disease and pest control and costs made growers cautious in their initial efforts.

What Has ANR Done?

Collaborative research by UCCE, UC scientists and local growers has provided essential information on virtually all aspects of organic winegrowing:
--Covercrop studies have resulted in many vineyard floor management options that help growers protect their soils from erosion, improve fertility, create beneficial insect habitat and compete against troublesome weeds.
--Benefits of creating beneficial insect habitat with “insectary plantings” of prune trees, as well as ornamental plants that attract natural pests of grape leafhoppers and mites, have been demonstrated.
--Modern canopy management techniques developed by UC have been demonstrated and widely adopted by growers.
--The use of electronic weather monitoring equipment for predicting powdery mildew was perfected in Mendocino County, helping growers to pinpoint when to apply precise applications of sulfur dust and other environmentally friendly fungicides.
--Farming costs have been documented by UC agricultural economists and published as cost sheets, allowing growers to plan budgets for organic winegrowing based on accurate information.

The Payoff

Mendocino County : The world leader in organic winegrowing

Mendocino County is now the world leader in organic winegrowing, with over 3,500 certified acres of organically-farmed wine grapes. Winegrowers have greatly reduced their pesticide usage, with most applying only sulfur dust or spray to control powdery mildew. Cover crops are planted in over 70% of the county’s vineyards and cover cropping techniques developed in Mendocino County are now widely used in California. Wine grape quality has actually improved as growers have taken better care of their vineyard soils.

Mendocino County has one of the largest electronic weather networks in the state, with over 80 stations. Growers now routinely use electronic weather monitoring as part of their pest management decision-making. Many growers no longer spray insecticides, relying instead on beneficial insects that live in cover crops and insectary plantings. Nearly all growers use improved canopy management techniques that improve the overall health of the vines, making them less susceptible to insect and disease attack.

This environmentally friendly farming system is also very cost-effective. Wine quality has improved in many instances, and organically farmed vineyards are safer places for workers, beneficial insects, birds and wildlife.


Supporting Unit: Mendocino County

Glenn McGourty,UCCE Mendocino County, 579 Low Gap Road, Ukiah, CA 95482
(707)463-4495 gtmcgourty@ucdavis.edu