Odette’s philosophy of making luxury wine in harmony with the environment begins in the soil of the 45-acre estate vineyard, where the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines are farmed organically. Odette maintains a painstaking program of natural cultivation that will result in organic certification at the end of the required transition period.
“Change is good, green is good, organic is good,” says Odette partner John Conover about the estate’s environmentally proactive approach to winemaking. “We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do as stewards of the land.”
Organic farming is essentially the way that intelligent farmers tended their fields for thousands of years, making the most of their land by constantly renewing it with animal fertilizer, crop rotation and the other good things available to them. That harmony changed abruptly in many agricultural lands in the mid 20th century when chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides became widely available. At that time some grape growers joined other farmers in using the new wonder chemicals to kill insect pests and pump up their plants for bigger crops, not understanding how these fertilizers and poisons would damage their soils and the environment in general.
Enlightened wine estate owners today, including Odette, know that going organic in their vineyards makes for healthier soil, more biologically balanced and pest-resistant grapevines, and more natural and complex wines. Organic farming avoids synthetic fertilizers and insecticides, and encourages the use of compost and manure to create soil rich with natural nutrition and beneficial plant and animal life that help sustain the vines from year to year.
Planting a cover crop of grass, clover or mustard between the vine rows is an essential part of organic farming. In California, the cover crop grows during the rainy season of winter and spring. Growers rarely if ever harvest it, but usually mow it short for the summer. The cover crop encourages natural predators of the vines’ insect enemies, increases the “tilth” or cultivating capacity of the soil, and when plowed under it adds oxygen and nutrients.
Composting — creating soil amendments by “fermenting” plant material that is then tilled back into soil — is another key element of organic vine growing. It helps build soil fertility on the premise that a healthy, living soil produces healthy plants which are more resistant to pests and disease and have higher nutritional value.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture stipulates that American farms, including wine-grape vineyards, may gain certified organic status with a rigorous yearly inspection conducted by certified USDA inspection agencies. The non-profit California Certified Organic Farmers association holds Odette to these high standards.