“In the 16th to 18th centuries, the area we know as Sonoma County appeared on European maps as a mythical kingdom called ‘Quivira’ whose streets were said to be paved with gold. Today, the region's ‘gold’ is the acres of grapevines that thrive there.” (Quote from Quivira Winery and Vineyard website.)
But, isn’t found solely in the grapevines or in medals from their wines, but in the gardens and on the farm, as well. With 120 raised beds, a poultry run, pigs, cows, insectaries and more, it is a dynamic entity promoting the health of the entire estate.
The estate is Demeter certified -- the
“Biodynamic is an approach to a farming system that relies on as few inputs as possible,” said Quivira farm manager Andrew Beedy. “The estate is a living, breathing organism—that’s how the parts work together.”
Though the acreage at Quivira cannot support a full herd of cattle that would provide all the manure used for the fields, it does include two cows that graze between the vines, while “dropping” valuable fertilizer in the process. In addition, Beedy brings in another 100 cubic yards of organic cow manure.
“It’s beyond not just using synthetic inputs, like pesticides,” he continued. “It’s bringing in beneficial influences, as well.”
Beneficial influences include pollinators, the animals for their manure fertilizer, the planned small herd of sheep to graze on the hillside not accessible by tractor. The positive influences also include the herbal preparations Beedy either prepares on the estate or purchases from JPI Biodynamics, an East Coast specialty company.
“We do two field sprays, one to prepare for winter and a silica-based preparation as a foliar spray in the spring,” said Beedy. These two sprays are prepared on the estate, in a specially designed “prep tower,” where the sprays are gravity fed into sprayers.
Sometimes people scoff at the ideas behind biodynamic farming with its emphasis on moon phases, homeopathic-level herbal preparations and the sowing of cows horns for the health of the soil. Biodynamic farming is based on the teachings and work of Rudolf Steiner, and most simply, it is about caring for the life processes of the soil.
One of the interesting aspects of biodynamic farming is the “planting” of cow horns with manure preparations inside. They are buried in the fall at the autumnal equinox and lifted around the spring equinox. These concoctions are used to “bring in the Earthly forces and helps the soil develop humus and structure and attract earthworms and soil micro-organisms,” says CountyfarmLifestyles.com.
Beedy makes no bones about the fact that wine is the economic foundation of the estate but emphasizes the health and well-being of the entire estate as a value.
That value includes the health and well-being of estate employees. A number of the field positions include year-round employment and the workers get the same benefits as the managers, including paid sick days and vacation.
The sense of "Zen" permeates the whole estate and the attention to the finest details abounds. That detail includes the exacting raking of the gravel around the raised beds and koi pond.
The gardens include peppers, potatoes, leafy greens, fava beans and flowers, particularly salvias. Each of the 120 raised beds is on a four-year crop rotation to discourage pathogens. In addition, the animal manure and green materials are composted and reincorporated into the soil.
Insectaries are scattered throughout the property encouraging pollinators to work in the gardens.
Beedy has a life-long history with biodynamic and organic farming. His studies include both environmental science and photography. Beedy’s parents were biodynamic farmers and he worked in England for seven years at Ripple Farm Organics, a large commercial farm with “a lot of tractor work.”
“I had to learn to use a shovel again,” said Beedy with a laugh. “I wanted to know where my tractor was.
“But, you can do all this by just adding compost,” he said with a sweep of his arm to include all the gardens and the animals. “You don’t need synthetics.
“All the seeds are open-pollinated,” he said. “We’d like to produce 100 percent of our seeds on site but we have to be practical.
“We saved about 10 percent of our seeds from last year,” he finished up. Collecting and saving seed is a labor-intensive job and they don’t have the human power to do that. The farm has two full-time and one part-time employee.
Quivira Winery and Vineyards was started by Holly and Henry Wendt in 1981, who sold the estate to Pete and Terri Kight, the current owners, in 2006.
The Wendts took their stewardship of the land seriously and the Knights have followed suit. In addition to stepping up from organic to biodynamic, they are helping restore Wine Creek that runs through the farm with its Coho salmon population.
Fingerlings were released starting in 2010 and some have already returned.
Quivira even produces 100 percent of the estate's electricity through a 55 kilowatt solar array on the roof of the winery. Input into the electrical grid is displayed in real time on their website.
“It’s about preserving and improving what we’ve got here,” said Beedy. “Keeping it healthy—the soil and the vineyards.
“It is about prevention, not curing,” he continued. “When you pay attention to the details, you won’t have to worry about finding cures.”
Enter Andrew Fegelman, Quivira director of marketing, to add a few words about their wines.
“The farm is one piece of a trio,” said Fegelman. “The biodynamics, a great vineyard site and a great winemaker." The Quivira winemaker is Hugh Chappelle.
“Right now we are pouring the Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc, a zin, 'Flight,' and 'Quest,'” he said. “We have almost sold out of the 2011 North Coast Rosé, a Healdsburg Plaza concert wine.
“People are realizing how great the rosé is and it’s selling fast,” he finished with a grin.
Quivira sells its produce to upscale Healdsburg restaurants like and . In addition, they participate in Farm to Table each year, this year their event will be in July.
They also produce preserves, including pear, peach and apple. Figs for even more preserves come from a century old fig tree on the estate.
“We’ve planted scions (cuttings) of that tree around the property,” said Beedy.
At the end of each day, the Quivira team’s quest for gold continues, as they work together toward further improvement. The new, small flock of sheep will be in the fields in the fall, after Beedy creates a pasture to house them when they are not in the vineyards.
One of the cows is in calf and will add to the small herd. The two pigs, farm mascot "Ruby," and “pig number two” continue to graze in their pastures and help fertilize the soil. And the chickens produce eggs -- just another form of gold for Quivira.