Understanding Regenerative Farming with Ivo Jeramaz
Ivo Jeramaz has been a pioneer, not only at Grgich Hills Estate, but of the entire Napa Valley as a whole, when it comes to regenerative farming. He is paving the way forward for all farmers to embrace a healthier, more environmentally friendly approach to agriculture. We asked him some burning questions that will illuminate the reasoning behind this shift in vineyard management practices.
What would you say is the core belief of this farming practice?
The soil microbiome is the most important thing. There are millions of tiny organisms living in the soil, and in a natural system, they provide nutrients to plants and protect them from disease. The microbes are then fed by the plants. The general consensus from conventional farmers is that they need fertilizers to provide enough food for their plants, and this is true, but only if your soil is dead, devoid of microbes. When microbes are thriving, the soil is healthy, and that translates to the vines.
What impacts have you seen firsthand in the vineyards due to this shift in farming strategies?
Healthier plants, first and foremost. This is partially due to a decrease in disease among all our plants. They’re growing in rich, living soil, which makes them naturally resistant to infections. It has also been far more profitable for us. The current yearly cost of farming a single acre of vineyard in the Napa Valley is $15,000 on average, while our costs are $11,000 per acre. Looking at the amount of land we farm, this is more than $1 million dollars in savings each year. On top of that, our yields are above average as well. Depending on the varietal, we produce 0.5-1 ton more grapes than the Napa Valley average.
How, if at all, do you think these changes in farming affect the wines themselves?
Our wines have become more authentic, and better represent the locations where they were grown. It goes back to the concept of terroir, that in a great wine, you want to experience the place where those grapes were grown. This style of farming allows you to taste the sense of place very clearly in our wines. On a chemical level, we’ve been seeing a better ratio of sugars to acids in white wines, and more tannins and polyphenols (the compound that creates vivid colors) in reds.
What has been the biggest challenge when moving toward this style of farming?
Letting go of control. Growing up in conventional farming, which is incredibly regimented, you learn to intervene immediately and dramatically when things go wrong, and you get into a mindset of ‘I have to control everything.’ Weeds need to be ripped out, pests that cause damage must be eliminated by any means, fertilizers are necessary to ensure enough nutrients get to your plant. So it’s hard to step back and trust in nature, but in the end nature always knows best.
Why do you want to spread the word about Regenerative Agriculture?
I believe that all of humanity would greatly benefit if regenerative farming was widespread, not only in winemaking, but in all types of agriculture. Farming is one of the most important jobs in the world- farmers provide us with the sustenance we need every day, and when they grow their crops in a healthy system, food can be like medicine.
What does the future of regenerative farming look like for Grgich Hills?
The future has endless possibilities, because we are always looking to improve. This type of farming is still relatively new to us, so each year we’re learning more and more. We hope that in the future, our practices will reduce the disease our vineyards deal with to zero, and that the negative effects associated with global warming and the extreme weather events will be mitigated- both of which is something we already have evidence for. I see our future as being full of learning, growth, and collaboration, as we work with other like-minded farmers to develop this system and make it commonplace.