River’s Edge Winery seeks to produce great wines by means which have no lasting consequences for our environment or the planet.
Low input viticulture & enology
At its heart, LIVE is simple: it is the personal commitment of principled Northwest people to “do the right thing” for the environment and society. But LIVE is much more than good intentions. LIVE is a comprehensive set of rigorously applied, science-based standards and procedures that ensure both wine grape farming (viticulture) and wine making production (enology) are as sustainable and have as minimal an environmental impact as possible.
As of May 2018, River’s Edge Winery, as well as our two vineyards, are certified LIVE Sustainable.
We are very interested in managing our vineyards in a way which leaves the land permanently productive and environmentally undamaged and which provides habitat for many plant and animal species. Practically, this means that we do many things that conventional (industrial) farming does not while avoiding many practices common in conventional farming. These practices fall into several broad categories.
In an environment that receives 50+ inches of rain a year, water run-off is a big issue. We utilize drain rock to channel run-off water from the hillsides. This slows the rate of water flow and limits erosion. We also utilize terracing to promote water retention in the soil, a turf culture between rows of grapes to hold the soil (we never plow or till the vineyards), and a system of drains that take the water to a pond for settling of any sediment. Thus the very substantial run-off water from the vineyards is clear and clean when it enters a nearby small creek, and we have not observed any erosion in the vineyards. After two onsite inspections and continuous monitoring, the vineyards have been certified “Salmon Safe” www.salmonsafe.org to recognize this fact.
Sustainable farming requires minimal use of chemical agents and that these agents should not harm animals and plants other than the target pest. We follow strict guidelines authored by the state-wide organization LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) that only allow the use of specific pesticides and herbicides, in minimal rates, that they deem ecologically safe.
The results are easily observed in the vineyard. Myriad species of insects are numerous and we particularly delight when we find praying mantis on the vines. Every year we discover several nests in the vines where small birds have raised a family. Wild turkeys reside in the vineyards year round, and especially in winter. The pond adjoining Black Oak Vineyard is a favorite hang-out in the fall for rare wood ducks which take advantage of the acorns in and around the pond. Pileated woodpeckers, present all year in the forest surrounding the vineyards, spend much of the fall gobbling up grapes (fortunately mostly after the leaves have fallen, when missed grapes are easily seen).
Part of the formula that leads to superior quality grapes (which make superior wine) is to restrict the vigor of the vines. We never fertilize with nitrogen-containing fertilizers which would increase vigor. Nitrogen fertilizers are extremely energy intensive materials, and these products are notoriously prone to leaching into nearby streams. We periodically measure soil and vine mineral content, to proactively detect deficiencies. Western Oregon is regarded as having “boron deficient” soils, and our measurements frequently confirm this in our vineyards. Thus we routinely spray a foliar nutrient mix twice yearly, which provides traces of boron, zinc and potassium to the vines. These very conservative practices assure that there is virtually no run-off of nutrients into the adjoining stream.
All organic matter produced by the vines and not consumed in winemaking, is ultimately returned to the vineyard. The vineyard has a “turf culture” of native grasses and plants, which considerably increases the organic matter produced and retained by the vineyard. We mow three times annually and leave the clippings on the vineyard floor. Canes pruned from the vines are “flailed” or chopped up and added to the mulch beneath the vines. The leaves which fall from the vines in the fall are also incorporated. Thus we are adding considerably to the carbon balance of the soil, and very slowly increasing the humus content. Stems, skins, and seeds from winemaking are composted and ultimately returned to the vineyards.
Energy Use Much of the work performed in the vineyards, such as pruning, suckering, thinning, and picking uses that most fundamental source of energy, human labor. Since we do not till the soil and we do not apply nitrogen fertilizers, about the only energy use of consequence in the vineyards are
1) tractor fuel to apply sprays/mow/load grape totes at harvest time
2) truck fuel to haul the grapes to the winery 3 miles away.
There is inevitably some additional tractor use for miscellaneous purposes, such as trellis or fence work. We use about 150 gallons of diesel fuel a year for the tractor, and we have been using 20% bio-diesel mixture. The truck uses about 35 gallons of gasoline a year. For that modest consumption, consider the yield: in a typical year the vineyards produce about 30 tons of grapes, containing over 20% sugar by weight or 6 tons of sugar.
We seek to reduce our energy consumption (particularly fossil fuel), to recycle as much as practicable, to use natural and recycled products as much as possible, and to dispose of waste by recycling or using systems which are most favorable to the environment. This process is a continual work in progress, as we continuously learn about new ways to improve our sustainability. Below are some descriptions of our efforts thus far.
Because electrical energy is relatively cheap in our area, and is entirely derived from hydroelectric dams (a quasi-renewable source), our winery is nearly entirely electric. Some measures we’ve taken to decrease our usage of electricity include:
Installed an energy efficient heat pump for heating through cooler months
Upgraded winery insulation to R-38
Installed a fan system that draws in air when outside temperatures drop below 60 during the summer, eliminating our need for air conditioning
Most of our equipment is electrical, including one of the forklifts. The only fossil fuels we use are diesel fuel in our hot water pressure washer and propane in the auxiliary forklift (about~30 gallons per year, each). Lastly, we’ve installed 36 photovoltaic panels on the roof of the winery that will further detract from our electrical usage.
Wineries generate a lot of potential recyclables. Empty bottles, case boxes, screw caps, shipping containers, and used barrels represent the majority of these items. We rigorously recycle bottles, screw caps, and cardboard locally. Our shipping containers are made from recycled paper and are biodegradable. Older barrels no longer needed are sold for modest amounts to the public for use in a variety of inventive uses around the community, including planters in Downtown Elkton and trash receptacles in nearby Winchester Bay.
Wineries generate a lot of waste. Grape skins, seeds, and stems after pressing or fermentation amount to many tons each fall. We transport these solids back to the vineyard, where we have set aside a specific area devoted to composting.
Water is used in large volumes to clean equipment. All of our water waste is directed to the city sewer system, which assures that none will end up running untreated into the nearby Umpqua River. Because we are nearly all-electric, and much of that generated by solar power, we do not produce directly or indirectly smokestack gases.