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Hawley Vineyards, California – John, Paul and Austin Hawley

April 5, 2012

Why do you do what you do?  I am a winemaker and organic grape grower. I live on my vineyard. I raised my family there. My sons work with me in the winery and vineyard. I decided in 2002 to start farming organically, because I didn’t like the idea of chemicals in my water.

How do you do it? Nature does it on its own. “Traditional agriculture” has only come to mean “chemical based agriculture” over the past 50 years. Humans have been farming for much longer than that.

What obstacles have you overcome? It took a couple years for my vines to overcome the initial shock of not having nitrogen fertilizer being pumped directly to them through the irrigation system. The biggest hurdle has been finding organic means of getting nitrogen nutrients to the vines. We have been spreading composed grape pumice (skins and stems left over from crush) throughout the vineyard. We have also been planting a cover crop of nitrogen-fixing plants. Since we have instituted these two activities, our vines have responded remarkably. Our crop levels are now comparable to what they were before we began farming organically.

What disasters have you survived? With farming, every year offers a new disaster and a new blessing. For example, last year we had a cool growing season which led to awesome flavor development and lower alcohols. Unfortunately, the extended ripening season was coupled with an early rainy season. We were hit with rain in early October when only about 25% of the county’s grapes had been picked.


Are you happy with your work? Very. I guess a lot of grape growers like the look of the clean, weedless, vineyard. When I look at my vineyard with cover crops up to my chest, that is beautiful to me.

One issue that the industry faces is the issue of “organic wine” vs. “wine made with organically grown grapes”. The terms are confusing but the products are very different. We make traditional wine but use organic grapes. We are not allowed to label our wine as organic because we use sulfites. I think that the regulating agencies need to reconcile the definition of “organic” as it relates to winemaking so that consumers can better understand what they are buying.

Is it worth the effort? The additional expense of farming organically is more than compensated by the increased vine health and resulting wine quality.


Video of John Hawley in the Vineyard:


From → Interviews

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