The following is an excerpt from Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Wine on Long Island by Eileen M. Duffy about the birth of Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing.
In 2011, four vineyard managers on Long Island created guidelines for a way of farming that has the least impact on the soil and water while enhancing the economics and human capital of growing wine. The result was Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing founded by Barbara Shinn of Shinn Estate Vineyard, Larry Perrine of Channing Daughters, Richard Olsen-Harbich of Bedell Cellars and Jim Thompson of Martha Clara in Riverhead.
“This is a very disciplined method of farming, says Shinn. “It’s a lot about not interrupting the natural cycles, so nature will balance herself. It’s very hands off; we allow the outside ecosystem to come into the vineyard.”
But there are some things beyond the ability of nature to balance when growing grapes. “I have found it impossible to control downy mildew by using sustainable methods. I cannot be economically viable losing that much fruit,” says Shinn. “I use EPA-rated low-impact materials that other sustainable programs similar to ours use.” The vineyard is not certified organic, which is fine, says Shinn, because in order to be so, one must use 100 percent organic materials. “We’re part of the sustainable winegrowers.”
Look for this logo on bottles made by members of Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing.
LIWS’s standards came into effect in 2012. “It’s not just a workbook,” says Shinn. “It’s really an exacting protocol. We have materials we don’t allow at all, a few insecticides, especially neonicotinoids, which are especially harmful to bees. We limit the amount of synthetic nitrogen and any fungicide that shows in ground water.” Long Island gets its drinking water solely from aquifers that sit under the farms, houses, and roadways.
“We have to have biological set asides that allows biodiversity and gives habitat to beneficial insects,” she says. “We also use integrated pest management; we have to scout the vineyard for problem insects and document in written form what we used and how we used it.”
These records are reviewed by a third party, which has to pass ethical conventions used by other sustainable growers in the United States and is paid by members’ dues. “That person wants to read it,” says Shinn, “and he can’t have any conflict of interest.”
Part of the protocol is to create an action plan and review it at the end of the year. “You can then see if you addressed each item,” says Shinn, “and see if you’re successful in making a better farm growing environment for yourself and your workers.”
When she implemented the practices, Shinn says she was surprised how much it helped her accomplish things because she had it in writing. “I saw we had some erosion in a tractor path, and I wanted to reseed it,” she says. “Or then it gets out of control and the rains come and then the gullies and washing and then it’s five times as hard to fix.” She also wrote that she was going to give a composting workshop to other members of the group, and in the winter of 2014, she did.
And importantly there is more and more collaboration. By mid-2015 LISW had 19 members: the original four plus Wölffer Estate, Kontokosta Winery, Corwith, Roanoke, Mudd, Harbes, One Woman, Surrey Lane, Sparkling Pointe, McCall, Palmer, Sannino Bella Vita, Mattebella, Paumanok Vineyard and Duck Walk. “This winter, it was so cold,” says Shinn. “And we were on the phone talking about what to do, leave extra canes on in case we need them? And asking ‘Are you seeing what I’m seeing?’”
Shinn sees nothing but progress on the horizon. “This region has so much momentum with sustainable growing,” she says. “If we stay on this track, this region could have some of the healthiest soils in the country. All of the regions on the East Coast are looking to adopt these practices. And we’re making better wine because of it.”