Brother and sister Alex and Alison Sokol Blosser are both vice presidents in the family business, with Alex managing the vineyard and Alison in charge of marketing.
Going organic was quite a challenge for one of Oregon’s oldest and most highly acclaimed wineries.
Sokol Blosser began organic operations on its 72-acre estate in the celebrated Red Hills of Dundee in 2001.
Unfortunately, that first attempt was not all that –successful, said vineyard manager Alex Sokol Blosser.
"Basically, I had to learn how to ride a bike again. We hired a number of consultants. We read a lot of books, talked to a lot of growers."
One of the initial problems was spray efficacy. "Basically, you try some sprays, and they just don’t work," Sokol Blosser said.
A powdery mildew outbreak "got out of control" and forced the winery to go back to conventional farming until the next year.
In 2002, Sokol Blosser fine-tuned its organic management practices and went on to become certified organic by Oregon Tilth in 2005.
Today, Sokol Blosser, which won Sunset magazine’s Green Award in 2007 for its sustainable approach to growing and making wines, is one of the few wineries in the state whose estate fruit is all grown organically.
"Our biggest challenge was weed control and definitely mildew and botrytis control," Sokol Blosser said. After experimenting with various implements, Sokol Blosser has settled on an in-the-row cultivator that sits on the side of a tractor and cultivates under the vines.
"Timing is everything on using that tool," Sokol Blosser said. "Use it at the wrong time, and you have to use it a lot more. In the spring, two passes is usually good enough."
The cultivator works to a depth of around an inch.
With 30 to 40 inches of rain a year and hilly ground, one of Sokol Blosser’s biggest concerns is erosion control.
Erosion is kept in check with a certified organic ryegrass propagated in Italy that is fall planted in the rows and cultivated out in the spring. For high-use areas of the vineyard needing more erosion control, certified organic straw is used.
"We experimented with a number of things to get on top of mildew (which strikes between May and August) and botrytis (a problem from August through harvest)," Sokol Blosser said.
To combat powdery mildew, he uses sulfur, the biofungicides Sonata (Bacillus pumilus) and Serenade (Bacillus subtilis), and Kaligreen and Milstop (both potassium bicarbonates).
But the treatments themselves are only part of the picture.
Spray coverage key
"The thing with spraying is not just the chemicals you’re using but the coverage," Sokol Blosser said. "It’s how fast is your tractor going, is your sprayer calibrated, how many gallons of water you’re using per acre?"
Instead of spraying every two weeks, the cycle is now every ten days. In addition, the tractor applying the treatments has been slowed down. "We’re using more water per acre. If we were using 50 to 60