The Earthy Approach Hope Family Wines Uses

(This story originally ran in the March/April issue of Vintner Magazine)

Hope Family Wines owner Austin Hope does not mince words when asked what the most valuable resource in his vineyards is.

“The most valuable resource is our soil,” Hope said. “Watching vines decline in some of our blocks has led us to reevaluate how we are treating the soil — where the vines live. Soil should be a thriving microbiome that flourishes and feed the plants there. It’s much like what we know about keeping our own bodies healthy; it all starts in the gut. If our gut microbiome is not healthy, we are prone to a litany of maladies. If we heal our gut, many issues disappear. This is the same for soil.”

Hope said they had two goals for the California winery in working to improve its vineyard’s soil health.

“Improving vine health which, in turn, improves vine balance, production balance and improved quality of our wines and (decreasing) water use by way of growing cover crops that will allow us to stretch our irrigation season,” Hope said.

Improving the soil microbiome by planting nutrient rich cover crops in the vine rows can eventually improve water retention in the soil. This can reduce the need for irrigation.

“Since our climate is Mediterranean, warm and dry, we may not ever be able to completely stop irrigating,” Hope said. “But we can always improve our water efficiency.”

Tools Hope uses to help manage water in the soil include water moisture monitoring devices that indicate the soil moisture throughout the vineyard.

“This, along with using weather forecasting and our on-site weather station that shows what our evapotranspiration rates are to determine how much water to apply for upcoming weather events such as heat, we can target how much water to apply,” Hope said. “Tracking the soil water moisture and weather data can also allow us to stretch our irrigation applications, only watering when necessary.”

Cover crops are planted post-harvest in November. A lack of rain foiled the cover crop experiment last year, but Hope was optimistic about this year’s efforts. Nutrient rich compost has made a difference, even with a dry year, Hope said.

“This year, our cover crop was planted on time and due to some timely rains in December, is growing,” Hope said. “Our compost was applied and those same rain events helped to integrate it into the soil. Although we are looking at another tough rainfall season, we feel we have been able to apply our new philosophies much better. 

“We’ve learned that timing is everything but not always convenient, that we need to utilize more technologies to help improve our soils while at the same time going a little ‘old school’ with some of our farming practices.”

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