The Story of Regenerative Vineyard Farming in Oregon, Part I
Even though Oregon only produces one percent of the wines made in the United States, this states accounts for 52% of total vineyard acres that have received biodynamic® certification from Demeter USA
Oregon has the highest percentage of biodynamic wineries of any state: 15 are officially Demeter Biodynamic certified, while another 30 wineries claim to follow biodynamic practices. As of 2020, only 83 wineries in the United States have achieved Demeter USA’s biodynamic certification to date.1, 2
In March, when I attended an event put on by Heidi Moore, author of WineCrush Podcast, I met Stephen Hagen, owner of Antiquum Farm. As I listened to him explain his philosophy around grazing-based agriculture, I was awestruck. I felt I was in the presence of a man who understands the needs of the earth and how to nourish all the plants, animals, and fungi to the benefit of everyone and everything involved. Nothing was abused, used up or neglected. All the products on the farm from the grapes, to the ducks, sheep, pigs and vegetables were produced for maximum yield, flavor and health, and the soil left behind after the harvest was improved, not depleted. This is what all farming should be and is the epitome of regenerative farming: cultivation of the land for the benefit of future generations.
After the event, I began paying attention to the wineries to which I brought guests and curious about the ones with these certifications on their websites: USDA Organic, Demeter Biodynamic, Certified B Corp. The stories I heard and the people I met at these wineries impressed me; I wanted to learn more.
Oregon’s viticulture leads the way in Biodynamic farming, which follows a similar mission as regenerative farming. The vision of Demeter (the governing body of Biodynamic farming certification in the US) is to heal the planet through agriculture. Most progressive farmers can agree that the best farms offer diversity, strive to improve the soil every year, reduce or eliminate use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, care for the land for future generations and believe the best tasting and highest quality crops come from following basic and ancient farming traditions.
What has “progress” brought to the traditional commercial farming industry? Monoculture, heavy pesticide and herbicide use, depletion of soil nutrients as well as high farming costs that have pushed many family farms to sell out to conglomerates who can afford the expensive equipment and ride out years of poor harvests due to changing climate conditions.
Thankfully, there are farmers who recognize the long term risks of depleting rich farmlands in exchange for short term financial gain, and many reside here in Oregon. This state has a long and diverse history of agriculture. Though only the 9th largest crop in Oregon, wine grape acreage ranks #4 in the US behind California, Washington and New York. And beyond their acreage, Oregon vineyards contain the highest percentage of land that follow natural, sustainable, organic, biodynamic practices in the United States.S.
Back to the Beginning
Rudolf Steiner, Austrian philosopher and educator, introduced the world to the concept of Biodynamic farming in 1924, before eventually going on to found the Waldorf School.3
We can thank Steiner for identifying the principles of this farming method, including the consideration of the entire farm as a living organism to aid in regeneration of soil and the role of microbes in creating healthy plants. The principles include some odd-sounding ones: sowing and harvesting based on the phases of the moon; burying cow organs and horns filled with compost in the spring and fall, which is later dug up and used to fertilize the fields. Dismissed by many as nonsensical, the proof is in the results. The farms who follow these practices are rewarded with greater yield, improved flavor and obviously healthy plants.
What’s Happening in Oregon?
In the March talk, Stephen Hagan at Antiquum Farms, Junction City, OR presented his practice of grazing based viticulture.4 He told us that he sees “organic and biodynamic certification as positive steps, but we are setting a higher bar”. His philosophy pulls from many Biodynamic practices and adds the layer of using animals alongside his crops: sheep and pigs, carefully bred for the job, fertilize his vines while they eat cover crops and weeds. One food source yields fertilizer for another crop. Parasite eggs present in the manure of the sheep who eat the weeds between the vines become a protein source for the chickens, ducks and geese who peck the eggs from the sheep manure. The animals are rotated from field to pen and all involved become healthier through this symbiotic rotation. The microbial load from diverse animals benefits the soil, increases grape yields and the genetic diversity in his crops increases the flavor. A Pinot Noir grape can mutate in the field to a Pinot Blanc grape and even split into a half red, half green berry of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc! If these farming practices don’t embody the concept of “regeneration” nothing does!
Stay tuned for the next blog post where I dig into 3 additional vineyards/wineries who are pioneers in biodynamic, sustainable farming in Oregon’s Willamette Valley:
Cooper Mountain Vineyards
If you support and want to promote sustainable agriculture buy, visit and support biodynamic wines and wineries! And take a Triangle Wine Country tour and we will show them to you!