This Winery Promotes Regenerative Agriculture | Square Peg Winery
Did you know, in the right conditions certain grapevines don’t need to be watered at all?
In this episode of the Sustainability Matters Today podcast, my guest is Brad Alper, owner of Square Peg Winery in Sonoma County, California.
Square Peg is a unique winery Brad does not use irrigation or any herbicides in his vineyards and is able to grow delicious and award-winning Pinot Noir.
We discuss the dry farming technique, which is location-specific, requires farmers to grow vines using the St. George’s rootstock, and needs the farmer to care for each vine by hand.
We cover Sonoma County’s goal of having 100% certified sustainable vineyards and wineries by the end of 2019, and they are well on their way to this accomplishment.
Brad clarifies a misconception that sustainable and organic farming are the same, when really sustainability encompasses farming, energy consumption and production, the health of the soil, and paying your workers a fair wage. This is a much greater achievement and makes a broader positive impact on the environment than just checking a few boxes that qualify your farm as organic.
If you know someone who’s passionate about wine, unique farming techniques, or sustainability, share this episode with them! You can find us at sustainabilitymatters.today. If you’d like to learn more about Brad and the Square Peg Winery, visit the website https://squarepegwinery.com/
And let us know you’re listening to this episode on Instagram! Tag us - @sustainabilitymatterstoday and @squarepegwinery.
We’d love to hear from you!
Topics Covered in this Episode:
· Square Peg Winery’s history
· What is dry farming?
· The difference between sustainable and organic farming
Square Peg Winery Website: https://squarepegwinery.com/
Sonoma County Winegrowers: https://sonomawinegrape.org/
St George’s Rootstock: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitis_rupestris
“Science of Grapevines” by Markus Keller: https://www.amazon.com/Science-Grapevines-Anatomy-Physiology/dp/012374881X
“General Viticulture” by Albert Julius Winkler: https://www.amazon.com/General-Viticulture-J-Winkler/dp/0520025911
Daniel: Hi Brad. Thank you very much for joining me.
Brad: Good morning, Daniel. Nice be here and thanks for having me.
Daniel: Excellent. So before we jump into the details of your vineyards and wineries, I'd like to take a step back and ask a bit about your background. So you are a pilot for American airlines for over 28 years and then you decided to retire early and focus 100% on your vineyards and wine production. First of all, where did your love for wine come from?
Brad: Well, to be honest with you, Daniel, I didn't really have a love of wine before I got into this business.
Brad: If I heard somebody talk about wine, you were talking about the aroma and the nose and taste and so on. I just thought they were pretentious. So it wasn't any kind of a life goal of mine or some passion that I had. It was like a lot of things in life that just sort of be a fall. And a little bit of a backstory of how I actually got into the business really was I was based in Los Angeles and my wife and I had gone on a holiday and came home and our house had been robbed. So they pretty much took everything. And talk a lot about moving out of the city and moving to the country. And that just kind of kicked us in the pants, so to speak, and got us out. We moved to Sonoma County and bought a little piece of land and there was an acre, there was nothing on it. The previous owners have kept a couple of cows and so it was fallow ground and I just thought it was a shame to have it there going to waste. And it just so happened that adjacent to my property was an old vine zinfandel [inaudible 04:01] and it had been growing for 80 years at that time without water. And I remembered that the older gentleman who I purchased my property from reminded me on more than one occasion, "Rather, there's not much water up here, so if you're going to grow anything, you need to be really mindful of that." So that just seemed like the perfect fit for me to plant zinfandel because they didn't have to water.
So, we did that in 1994. And then, in 1999 that of property adjacent to me, which was an apple orchard, it came for sale. And this was Pinot noir was not at the level that it is right now, but the trajectory was skyward. So a lot of the big wineries from [inaudible 04:43] were coming to this area because of it just grows beautiful Pinot noir. I knew if I didn't get my hands on it, I would be living next to an industrial vineyard. So I was able to purchase it, partnered with a couple of folks in the wine business that knew a lot about wine and we planted Zinfandel and created our first brand. And so, that's how it all started. And then it just slowly evolved.
Daniel: Wow. Well, yes, a house being robbed is a very strong catalyst, I would imagine to move. And so, at what point did you decide to give up flying and focus only on the winery or the vineyard?
Brad: Well, it was - I had the good fortune of being hired by American airlines when I was 23 years old, so I was very young. And in the airline business, seniority is everything. So when you get hired, you're handed a seniority number and that number stays with you for your entire career. And that number of determines your schedule, your vacation, the aircraft equipment that you fly. It really pretty much determines your professional life. And fortunately I was very senior, so I was able to upgrade to captain very young and also make my way through the ranks and ultimately moved up to become a captain on a triple seven. And flying international, and I live in Sonoma County, which is about an hour and a half North of SFO.
But unfortunately American did not have any international flights that originated in San Francisco. So I had to commute to Los Angeles to do my work schedule. And a lot of people can do it, but I just couldn't, it was a grueling commute for me, especially because I was trying to, full time in the vineyard full time with my other brand. It's like, commute to LA, I have to be there early. So in case there's any problems, I wouldn't miss my flight. And in flight, mostly London, sometimes Shanghai come back, [inaudible 06:38] and then jump right back into work.
So there's really no time to rest. And I always, as an international traveler, I know you're aware of how long it takes you to recover from that and there's really no time to recover. And I just start thinking of how crazy it was for me to continue to do this really for just, I loved flying, but health wise it wasn't agreeing with me and my brand was suffering. So I just made the decision to give up a secure job and benefits and seniority and good pay for farming.
Daniel: Yes. Well good. I'm glad it turned out to be a good decision. But yes, that must've been, I mean that sounds absolutely exhausting. If I took a look at your website for Square Peg Winery, one of the very first things I see is that you grow grapes in a unique way. So what are some of the primary differences between your vineyard and quote unquote conventional vineyards?
Brad: Well, the main thing is that we dry farm. So we grow our grapes without irrigation. In many parts of the world, that's not such a big deal because there's rainfall throughout the growing season. But where we are, where we're located here in Sonoma County, typically we don't see any rain from may until say October. We'll have a little sprinkle here or there, but for the most part there's just no water at all. So, it is unusual for grape growers, especially growing premium quality grapes to dry farm. And Zinfandel is, is more widely dry farmed and which we grow. And then, if I had to put a number on it, I would say less than 1% of the growers in this region. Dry farm, Pinot noir. So that's the main difference.
Other things that we do a little bit differently than in many vineyards is that we do not use any herbicides roundup basically underneath in our vine rows because it's difficult to remove weeds underneath the grapevines. So what many growers will do is they'll spray herbicides underneath each row and it looks beautiful and the vineyards are pristine, but you're adding herbicides into the soil and if you just do that 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years. It's certainly not good for the soil, so we still have to remove the weeds. So what we ended up having to do is do it by hand, so it takes us quite a bit longer. That's quite a bit more expensive. But in my view, it's better for the environment over the long haul.
Daniel: Yes. I also saw that you actually care for each vine by hand multiple times throughout the year?
Daniel: So that way rather than just going through a kind of homogenous or mechanical approach and just doing everything the same for each vine, each one is actually taken care of individually. And so, what's the benefit of doing it kind of by hand rather than same for everyone?
Brad: Well, it's dry farming really requires that we do that. But for those growers that irrigate their vineyards, essentially they're able to provide whatever fertilizer they need through the irrigation and they're able to obviously irrigate. So each vine is, while they're not identical clones of each other, essentially they're all getting the same amount of nutrition and water, if they're all getting about the same. So they essentially, you can train each one of them the same. So when you have a crew come through to prune, for instance, you can just tell your crew, "Okay, on this one, here's how I want you to prune it this year. On one side of the vine, leave this core dome, which is a lateral arm. Just leave me one chordoma on one side and then leave me two on the other." And then the crew goes through and that's what they do.
When you don't irrigate, one vine might be extremely vigorous, very healthy, and the one next to it might be a little bit weaker because maybe there's a different soil structure or it's wetter or for whatever reason. So you can't leave those two lateral arms on one and then one on the other. You might only be able to leave one lateral arm because that vine, the vigor of that behind just will not handle so many lateral arm. So when we prune, we have to have a couple of folks who are very in tune with the vineyard, who are looking down the road three to five years with each cut they make because it's going to affect the vine for that long. And they have to really be passionate about it. And it's more than just a technical skill. There's an art involved and they have to really care about it. So those suppose folks are very difficult to find. So each one as you said is different. Each one has different cuts.
And then however to the fact that when we dry farm, we have almost no water uptake by the vine, so we have to use as a route that can tolerate not being watered. And there are dozens of different rootstocks that you can use when you farm grapes, some that are suited to wet soils, some dry, some rocky, what have you. Because with dry farming, we need to use a rootstock that is very vigorous and draught tolerant.
Brad: And one of the downsides with using a route like that is it encourages tremendous growth in the vine. And on the base, you might think, "Well that's great. Don't you want tremendous growth on it wine? Don't you want it to be healthy?"
But we don't want too much that'd be binds energy going into the production of leaves and shoots. We need some of that energy to go into the fruit. So this rootstock is called "St George Root." While it's ideal for dry farming, it's also very, very vigorous and it creates this just Amazon like vine. So we have to reign in that vigor manually. We have to go through, in addition to pruning properly, we have to go through the vineyard several times a year to pull shoots off, to pull the leaves off, to monitor the cluster growth, the grape cluster growth. And if some of these grapes are lagging behind or not ripening later in the season, we'll have to remove those. So, all of these chores are done in even a conventional vineyard. It's just that the level that we have to take it to is greater, which requires more work, which is more labor and which is a higher cost.
Daniel: It's interesting to hear that, your dry farming, yes, you think that the growth would be stunted because there's no water, but it's amazing to hear that there's the st George Rootstock, which actually does really well and instead of starts growing and blossoming and putting all of these leaves out there, I actually had your 2016 Pinot noir the last couple nights and it's absolutely delicious. I wanted to make sure that I had some before we talked to. And in general I'm a really big fan of Pinot noir and I really like kind of light airy wines. But what I noticed about your specifically that it was especially good. Do you think that dry farming affects the flavor of the grapes at all and ultimately the flavor of the wine?
Brad: Well, I know that it does actually. When you have a dry farm vine versus a vine that is irrigated, at least on our site here, the roots from that vine are 15 to 20 feet deep. And irrigated vines and the vineyards that are adjacent to mine actually typically are two to three feet deep. So that's quite a bit deeper. For the dry farm vine are quite a bit deeper obviously. So you got to think about that soil structure, the nutrients, the minerals that are in this soil that are at that very deep level that the vines are able to tap into. And while they may not influence directly the flavor of the grapes, they changed the way that their grapes make flavor. So, and there's also a whole other layer to it that [inaudible 14:45] which are the microbes in the soil. These have this, if you were to take a look across section of the soil down 15 feet and with all these microsite would are just like a spider web under the soil and they're just out there sequestering nutrients and actually transporting nutrients to the vine that the vine could not transport by itself. It really changes the flavor profile of the grapes.
And this year into our upcoming release of our 2017, I was able to add a vineyard that is right next door to my vineyard and it's irrigated. And one of the sections in the vineyard, uses an identical clone to clone that I'm using in my vineyard. So I have the opportunity during a tasting here a couple of weeks ago, I had six folks here and they were not really experienced with wine. It was a charity event and they had been on this special day here. And so they were not really into wine, so to speak.
Brad: And I talked about dry farming and one of these guys was very skeptical. It was clear that he didn't even really want to be there and just kind of his wife was dragging Jim along. He said, "Would I be able to tell the difference between it? The wine made from a dry farm grade four versus one that's irrigated?" And I said, "Absolutely." I said, "In fact, you guys will be the first people. Let's try these side by side."
So I went down to my seller and grab a bottle of ours. It was dry farm then the neighbors from the neighboring vineyard that was your heating. And we did a blind tasting. And of course in the middle of this I was thinking, I'm like, "God, what if they prefer the irrigated wine?" But anyway, I just said, "Well, you know what? We're going to do it." And I expected, I hope that's 60% or 70% of the folks would include be able to say they liked the dry farm better and versus that irrigated. It turned out that out of six of them, all six of them said emphatically, "Oh, I like this. I like this, this is the best one." And it was all dry farm. It was 100%. And from folks who we're not experienced with wine, I didn't know what they like so they could all tell the difference and it wasn't, "Well I'm not really sure which one I liked the best." So, that was really gratifying.
And you can't tell the difference. and I'm not saying that it's a better wine, it's just different? And there's some incredible wines that are made from irrigated grapes. So I didn't want it to batch that because it's just different.
Daniel: Right. It makes a lot of sense. As you said, it's a lot of work to get that wine. So the fact that even people who have no background, the fact that they can tell, that must be very exciting and feel very good. You were mentioning the soil structure and the microsite and how all of that affects the flavor. And you also mentioned that you're not using any roundup or any herbicides to remove the weeds. Is part of the reason why you don't use the herbicide in order to maintain the soil structure and to make sure that your soils are healthy because of the positive effect on the flavor?
Brad: Well, that's a side benefit, the flavor in my opinion. But really for me, I'm just looking at a much longer term view of this, of the vineyard and the soil and the environment. And I just ask myself, "Over the next 10, 20, 30, 50 years, is this going to be good for the soil putting this round up here?" We may not have grapes here in 10 years and there would be something else. "Is this really the best, best alternative?" I'm lucky because I have a small vineyard and I can manage it, but if you have a thousand acres, it's a tough one. It's a tough call. And I think if roundup is used judiciously and carefully, I think in some cases growers don't have any alternative to that. The longterm is it healthy for the soil? I'm not so sure that it is because it's sort of recover probably, but it's just become part of my ethos trying to make the best possible decision for the long term with minimal impact on the environment.
Daniel: Yes. Well that's great. I mean based on what you outlined in terms of what you do on a day to day basis to maintain your vines and everything's done manually. I mean, like you said, "A thousand acres, it must be very difficult to maintain without any sort of machinery or chemical use." That's one of the benefits of having a small vineyard is that you have the opportunity to do it however you want and in a way that matches your, as you said, your ethos. You mentioned there's a lot of manual labor that goes along with dry farming. But by not irrigating your vines, you're also saving millions of gallons of water over the lifetime of the vineyard, which is obviously great for the environment, especially in California where it's frequently dry and there's droughts sometimes as well. Does dry farming actually help you save money at all by not having to pay for the water? Or is that kind of negligible?
Brad: Well, it is negligible where we are simply because we have ground water and in the area that it's not an aquifer per se. We have fractures in rock formations 50 or so feet beneath our surface here that water pools up pools in. And so, if you have to irrigate your vineyards, you can tap into that water, pump it from a well. So really the only cost would be electricity to run a crop. And in our case, so we have a solar photovoltaics system, so we generate our own electricity and actually we create excess electricity that we sell back to the local power company. And the amount that they pay, they charge you a lot when you buy the electricity, but they sure don't pay you very much when they buy it back.
Brad: So really it's not that much. So really if we did have to irrigate with using the electricity and then we wouldn't be selling as much back, so I would say that would be the only amount of money that we would save. So it wouldn't really be too much. So it's not so much an economical consideration as it is just we're fortunate enough to have the capability to drive farm here and so why not take advantage of it?
Daniel: Yes. You mentioned that in certain parts of the world, dry farming is very common. But can anyone grow grapes using dry farm methods or is that specific to certain parts of the world? And in this case you have the gold edge soil, which is very unique to the Russian river Valley and is great for kind of holding moisture, especially throughout that dry season you mentioned? So is that kind of a unique thing to specific areas or if anyone wanted to do it they could?
Brad: Well I can really only speak to this to my area here. And it's really site specific. it just depends. You can have one site and one in case in point where my vineyard is located, I'm able to dry farm just because of the golden soil and some of the other attributes of the soil and the substructure of the soil.
Brad: But directly adjacent to my vineyard, maybe 50 yards away is a site that is, you just can't dry farm. The soil just does not permit that. It doesn't retain the moisture. There is no groundwater to speak of that at a deep level for the roots to tap into. So they don't have that ability to do that. That being said, I'm sure they would dry farm if they could, but in lieu of that, most of the growers in this area, obviously they have to be water conscious. So it's not like everybody up here is just pumping massive amounts of water on their vines, some of these growers will only water once a year, in practice deficit irrigation. So even the folks that are not dry farming are very conscious of water usage and not wasting water at all. So can anybody dry farm? Probably not. But the ones that aren't able to, aren't getting as close to try farmers as they possibly can.
Daniel: Yes. Well that's cool. Good to know that you can, you can certainly try and get close to it. Moving onto a different aspect and away from dry farming. The Sonoma County wine growers in partnership with Sonoma County vintners, they announced on January 15th, 2014 which was about four and a half years ago at the time of this recording. So they announced that Sonoma County is committed to becoming the countries first 100% sustainable wine region by 2019. So it was a five year period and there's only a handful of months left to go. And I noticed that Square Peg is listed in the sustainability roll call of the Sonoma County wine growers fifth annual sustainability report. And basically Square Peg is one of the vineyards that is certified Sonoma County sustainable, which I think is awesome and that's great news. And congratulations for that.
What exactly does it mean to be a quote unquote sustainable wine grower? And was there anything in specific that you needed to do to get the certification?
Brad: Well, there's several different routes a grower can take to become certified sustainable. The route that we took was, we have several inspections of the vineyard. It's called "Fish Friendly Farming." And we are certified through that avenue and it's based on the care of the soil runoff because ultimately everything that comes off of this vineyard ends up in a creek or a stream, a river. So we have to pay very close attention to our erosion control and managing our cover crop to filter out any of the silk that's coming off the property and then retaining that, I should say. So there's a lot of different hoops to jump through to become sustainable. It's impressive because they're almost all, as you said, it's almost a 100% right now. It's really gratifying to be a part of an organization that really cares so much about their local environment.
And you know so much about the larger corporate farms that just put profit above their future generations really. And most, or many of the vineyards in this area are owned by smaller farmers and even some larger growers that are fifth and sixth generation and they take this very, very seriously somehow. And I don't want to portray myself as being at that level and I'm actually honored to be even associated with some of these folks here who have really taking the longterm view by becoming sustainable.
Daniel: Yes. I think it's so cool that an entire county has decided, we are going to lead the way and we're going to make sure that everyone here mitigates their impact, the negative environmental impacts of farming. We're all in it together and we're all going to make sure that we become sustainable. It's cool to hear that even big vineyards that have been doing it for a long time or are into it and doing their part as well. It's easier for these big companies to say, "Well that's not really what we do. We're trying to bolster the economy and kind of take that approach." But the fact that they're running with it and embracing it is really fantastic. So Square Peg is certified sustainable, does that mean that you're certified organic?
Brad: Well, we're not certified organic because we're actually surrounded by vineyards that are not organic. So we just don't have the clearance from those vineyards to be able to ever be sustained organic. But back up a little bit about sustainability. Sustainability is really beyond organic. So organic is just dealing with the farming. And most growers, at some level are organic and until they're not organic, you know? Everybody wants to view it as organic as they possibly can, but at some point you need to call on some tool in your arsenal to combat something that an organic product just will not take care of. So organic is farming, but sustainable is a much larger picture than just farm.
Sustainable is obviously, it is about the farming. It's also about retaining soil, being friendly to the fish. Also paying your workers a living wage, managing your energy usage and so on. When people say sustainable, they just, they call it sustainable. It's just a buzz word for people who can't become organic. That's not true at all. It's beyond organic really,
Daniel: Yes. It makes a lot of sense. Sounds like organic is very much. It's like you're just working in a bubble, so I'm not using these herbicides, I'm not using these pesticides, so I'm organic.
Daniel: Whereas sustainable is very much a bigger picture. It says, "Okay, let's kind of go above and outside of that bubble. if possible, let's not use these pesticides and herbicides as well because that's not good for the environment. But let's also look at the bigger picture. How are my people being treated? How is my energy consumption affecting the rest of the world really?" From that point of view, it's even cooler that the entire county is going 100% sustainable. Because what they're saying is we want every vineyard in our county to consider the outside world and to consider the environmental impacts of the work that everyone's doing.
Certified organic is kind of an interesting thing because I think people are now picking up a lot on what it is. And a lot of people know that organic things are typically more expensive. The sustainability label is still quite new. I mean it's only been kind of going on for a few years and only now is it approaching 100% in terms of Sonoma county's wineries or vineyards. Do you think you'd be able to command a higher price for your wines if you could get that certified organic label onto your bottles?
Brad: I'm not so sure that we could tell you the truth. The younger folks that are coming up, and I think it resonates more with them. And because of our proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, I do see a lot of younger folks who are much more aware of that and really do care about where their food comes from and ultimately their wine. But at the end of the day, a dollar is a dollar. And well I'm sure there are a few people that are passionate about where they spend their money and everyone is going to support these smaller organic farmers and they're going to balance that out with, "Well, this is organic, but this is probably just as good of a wine and I'm going to save $10 a bottle." So I wish it if that wasn't true and that people really understood how much more cost and how much they're helping themselves in the long run by supporting a smaller, sustainable, organic farmers and growers. When you're in the store and you're in a hurry and you're just trying to grab a level line to take to dinner, I'm not so sure that even enters into the equation. It's just price.
Brad: The way the label looks and if there's a review on the line that it's outside, would be a good one.
Daniel: Yes. I think that's a very important factor in terms of the sustainability movement, organic, ultimately a dollar is a dollar and I think it always does boil down to the financial aspect of it, which is part of the reason why I'm so interested in understanding kind of what the financial elements are from both the consumer and the producer side. Just because sustainability is all well and good, but if it's too expensive for people, then they just won't do it. It's very kind of black and white in that sense. But it's interesting to hear that you're mentioning, that there are younger people from the Silicon Valley and San Francisco who are obviously very kind of progressive that you're seeing that it's important for them because there was a Nielsen Global Survey where they surveyed 30,000 consumers worldwide. This was back in 2015 and the results showed that 44% of respondents said they would be more likely to purchase or support Sonoma County because of the sustainability efforts. Have you noticed that people are more willing to buy your wines because of your growing practices and they hear, the sustainability they here dry farming and saving millions of gallons of water and no herbicides and so on. Is that something you see effecting people's decisions when they're picking your wine?
Brad: In a roundabout way, Daniel, I think that's correct. Over the years, we've done many, many public tastings. So say for instance, we go to San Francisco, a large venue, and there might be 6,000 or 7,000 people attending and 300 wineries. And every winery has their own table and they're all pouring their wines. And we have a sign that says "Dry Farm Pinot noir." And it catches people's attention because they don't know what that is. And so, they get to the door table and "What's dry farming.? Then we have our opportunity to explain ourselves. And then they try the wine and they are like "Wow, this is really..." Just like your reaction. "This is great wine."
Brad: And then I explained why and so on. And so, it's something that's unusual and it intrigues them. And then once they're in, then they're like, "Wow, this is amazing." And then we've got a cover.
And then we have a tasting room as well. And so, which we've had open for I think three years now. And it's right on our vineyard. It's not located in a winery and it's just - and many, many people will tell us, " I was looking for a place to go that was different and family oriented and I saw yours and I said 'Dry farming. Wow.' That's really interesting. No water." So if we weren't out in the public and we didn't have a tasting room and we're just sitting on the shelf, I'm not sure that it would get their attention and they'd try it just because it was dry farm. But when they have an opportunity to taste it and understand the story, then I think we've converted them. So it's like one person at a time it could be.
Daniel: That's very cool. And I'm glad to hear that it does work and that people are interested in. Yes. When you have so many options, it's very difficult to make a decision. And so if you can find something that's different, you can grab onto that and say, "Well, this one's especially cool because it's dry farms and here's the story behind it." Do you think that your growing practices produce a healthier wine?
Brad: Well, we're certainly adding less chemicals to the wine. the grapes are harvested and this pretty much goes for all the growers. by the time you harvest your fruit and it typically you're in a good growing season, unless there's a problem with the grapes, unless you have a problem that you have to resolve, there's nothing added. Nothing's sprayed in the vineyard. So, by the time those grapes are harvested they're pretty clean, whether it's organic or not, and there's not residual chemicals to be found in the wine. And that's generally speaking, there's exceptions to that rule. But so as far as being a healthier wine, in my gut, it says "Yes." I'm sure. But scientifically speaking, if you did the lab tests side by side and just look what was in there, I can't answer that. Honestly. Daniel, I don't really know.
Daniel: Interesting. I mean, I didn't know that there was no spraying towards the end. Or any kind of applications.
Brad: When folks spray their vineyards, this is not just a haphazard program where they just go out and spray willy nilly, this is highly, it's regulated, but it's also, there are families of chemicals that are rotated, application rates are adhere to and there's things called PHI which is Pre Harvest Interval. There are some things you cannot spray, period and you just can't three weeks in advance. So that are less harmful, more benign to human beings that you can spray right up til to harvest. And most growers will keep those in their arsenal just in case they need to use it if there's a, mold outbreak or something else because these chemicals have been tested and proven to be safe right up to the day of harvest.
Brad: And so, a lot of years you won't even use them as I said, because it's taken care of. I had a time, you've sprayed all year long and in the last three or four weeks or month, you're not doing anything right. You're just out there, hopefully getting ripe. And then this brings up at one point that is a little bit interesting that I've researched in trying to become 100% organic and that is if we just wanted to save you sulfur, which we do use early in the season to help inhibit mold and mildew. Our application rate is somewhere depending on, the disease pressure of that particular growing season, six to eight pounds per acre. And you would spray, eight to 10 times a year. So that's a lot of sulfur to be putting. It's going to end up back in the soil where there are other non organic, when they call them fungicides, it will help inhibit mold and mildew that the application rate is in liquid form. Three ounces per 300 gallon. I mean, it's just minuscule. And so that's not ending up in the soil. And so when people say, "Ha, are you organic?" Well, what's better? Six to eight pounds of sulfur per acre, eight to 10 times a year or three ounces for 300 [inaudible 36:30], a few times a year. So, it's a trade off. It's just like everything else. It's a balance.
Daniel: Yes. Interesting. So you're saying that the six to eight pounds per acre of sulfur is the organic way?
Brad: That's correct. Yes.
Daniel: Oh wow.
Brad: And you have to spray more often. If you have a normal year where your mold pressure or say that the environment is just normal and if you didn't do anything you would have mold. So you have to do something. So you spray. You have a tank, we'll just say there's 300 gallons in the tank and it's calibrated to spray certain amount of gallons per acre. So you mix your sulfur with that. Well, instead of spraying once every two to three weeks, you're going to spray once every eight days. And that's a lot. And then you've got to think of, "Well, how is this being sprayed?" Like you have a tractor? So you're burning petrochemical as you go through that. And then that tractor is compacting the soil and we go to great lengths to cover crop and we try not to compact the soil. So everything is a trade off.
Daniel: Yes. That's interesting. I think that's a very good example of kind of where the difference lies between organic and sustainable as you just mentioned. That's the organic way. But sustainable takes a step back and says, "Okay, well let's think about the bigger picture. We don't want soil compaction. We want to make sure our cover crop is there to filter water. We don't want to spray more than necessary." So it is a trade off and the organic methodology may have its benefits, but the sustainable one has its benefits, which are seemingly bigger picture. Kind of taking a step back and just because as someone who is certified sustainable, as someone who was thinking about sustainability, even before Sonoma County decided to do this sustainability certification. Do you have any ideas on what people listening to this podcast can do to be more environmentally friendly or more sustainable in their everyday life?
Brad: That's a good question. That's a big question. But I think if everybody would just step back and really take a good look, because we get on this bandwagon about organic produce and the farmers being sustainable and which is all? it would be wonderful if we could all do that. Absolutely. It would be incredible. And there's people who rally against farmers who are not organic. And of course there's always the bad apple, excuse the pun? But really everybody, we're all - most people have a car, right? I mean, the energy used to make that car and the plastics that are in that car and the chemicals, I'm sitting here talking to you over a computer. I mean, the components to go into a computer are toxic. And one knows where these are discarded? And our cell phones and the energy that we use. every one of these things affects our environment. Our clothes and our shoes. You drive, your car, the tires wear down. Where does that tire dust go?
So we all kind of step back and just say, "We need to be green and 100% organic." But that's great. But look at your own life before everybody could just look at their life. And so, you wishes no, yikes. There's a lot of things I could do here too and then seek out maybe more environmentally friendly choices and options and not just with food, but with electronics and recycling. If you're going to upgrade to a new computer or find a way to at least impact on the environment. There's always going to be an impact. And I don't know if we've passed the tipping point if we can actually get back to it, but to maybe getting this planet back in balance but it's probably going to be done for us. But that's another conversation and it's not always going to come out on top.
But I just think in the broader picture of everybody just takes a look at their life and we try to limit the impact they have on the planet, the better. Please. I don't mean I don't want to us down. It sound like I'm an expert in this field because I'm certainly not. There are so many people better suited to talk about this than I am. I just have this small little vineyard and I know what works best here. But in the broader sense, I think there's a lot of resources out there that people can look at to try to improve the quality of their life and then in turn, improving the quality of life on earth in general for everybody.
Daniel: Yes. I think it's a really good point. I mean it's so easy to point your finger and blame others. And just say, "Well these companies or this government or whatever it is isn't pulling their weight." But at the same time, I mean everyone has the option and the ability to, make changes in their own home or in their habits. And ultimately, as you were saying earlier, people can vote with their dollar as well. So if you don't agree with what one company is doing, if you can't afford to choose a different option, then definitely do that because I think that by voting with your dollar, it certainly can make a difference. Even if it's just one bottle of wine at a time. And do you have a book or two that you can recommend for anyone who's interested in learning more about sustainable vineyards, fit or culture or wine making?
Brad: I don't really have a book that I can recommend for sustainable fit or culture, wine making, so on. there's a lot, I hate to just kind of print about it, this question taking the easy way out, saying you could just go online and Google and find a lot of choices and so on. But for me personally, because I live in this incredible area and I have access to myriad of different growers, it's just personal for me. If I have a question I can go ask somebody. But there are a couple of books that aren't dealing with sustainable grape growing per se. But there's one called "The Science of Grapevines," and it's just an amazing book like a Keller. It talks about how the vine makes flavor and how it grows in certain problems in great, great detail.
And so, when you have an in depth understanding of exactly what's happening, then you can step back and say, "Okay, well. I see how this is happening now. How can I work with the wines when you have a better understanding of the all the processes? Then that leads you into thinking outside of the box on well. 'How about if we try this or how about if we try that' And always with sustainability in mind." And then there's another book called "General viniculture." It's up stand by it and the great business. Just talks about absolutely everything in great detail and it's very understandable. But other than that folks can just go online and find the best information that they need.
Daniel: Cool. Yes. I think it makes a lot of sense to read books that give you a strong understanding of how the whole thing works and how the vines grow and what exactly you need to be looking for. And that way you can - once you understand those basics, then you can start tweaking and experimenting and you'll be able to make your judgment calls because of your understanding.
Daniel: Finally. Where can people find you or learn more about your work and purchase your wine should they want to?
Brad: Well because our production is so small, the only place you can purchase our wine is in our tasting room, in vineyard.
Daniel: So I'll have to just come and visit you?
Brad: That's right. You will make an appointment. Squarepegwinery.com. And it's more than just wine tasting. It's a great experience. Our wine makers is a pioneer actually in Burgundian style Pinot noir in this country. They've been making wine since 1983. So we have these lovely dry farm, Pinot noir, Zin, Chardonnay and then that we not make some rosé as well in the hands of the top wine makers in the world. So, it's not just about tasting wine, it's about exactly what we're doing here today. Daniels, we talk about these things and people get to see the vineyard and then try the wine. And then they take it home and they remember that day. And so, to me, that's kind of what we're seeing actually hearkens back to the question that you asked earlier about will people pay more for organic wine? Once people come here and they have a connection to the place? That's a whole another dimension than just buying a bottle of wine. So, if they'd like to, if they want to purchase it, come to the tasting room. Otherwise there's a few restaurants around the country that serve it.
Daniel: Excellent. Well yes, I'd love to come visit and see everything in action. But Brad, thank you so much for your time today. This was a great conversation. It's so interesting to hear how, how you can use alternative approaches to grow grapes rather. And to create fantastic wine. So thank you very much for your time and yes, really, really appreciate everything you're doing.
Brad: My pleasure Daniel. Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed chatting with you today.
Thank you for listening to episode one of season two. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the podcast to be the irst to know about new episodes. Go on Spotify, the Apple podcast app, Stitcher, and anywhere else where you can listen to podcasts. If you know anyone who's interested in sustainability and would enjoy listening to this episode or any of the other sustainability matters today, episodes, let them know. Send them the URL. Sustainabilitymatters.today. And if you want to chat, tag us on Instagram @sustainabilitymatterstoday and @squarepegwinery. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks and talk to you soon.