Couple aims to create Virginia’s first biodynamic vineyard

By Ryan Cornell

WINCHESTER — When it comes to their soil, Paul and Loretta Briede are like overly protective parents.

They’ve outlawed any pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or artificial chemicals from entering the ground of the 2 acre vineyard they’ve started planting this spring.

They monitor anything that touches it, from ensuring the wooden posts anchoring the vines haven’t been chemically treated to making sure fruit skins in their compost pile are organic as well as the horse feed that will eventually find its way into the pile as manure.

The reason behind their scrutiny: it’s their mission not only to be certified as an organic vineyard, but also as a biodynamic one, which would be the first of its kind in Virginia, according to Loretta Briede.

Biodynamics is a form of agriculture developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1924 that strives to create a balanced ecosystem and is based off the concept that everything a farm needs to sustain itself lies within its own property lines.

“The beauty in biodynamics is we don’t eliminate anything,” said Loretta Briede. “You don’t kill anything, you want a balance of nature…we create life with life.

“Organic farming basically omits the use of certain chemicals, while biodynamic farming uses the farm as a whole,” she added. “We use the horses, we use the compost, we create compost. That’s how we fertilize and bring the nutrients back to the soil.”

In addition to the large compost heap that lies outside the vineyard, the Briedes use biodynamic preparations including teas made out of horsetail, chamomile, stinging nettle and yarrow that they spray to deter mold formation.

As far as the pest problem, the Winchester couple plans to use a variety of natural predators.

An owl box, which hangs on a post about 12 feet above the ground, will house an owl to hunt any moles or voles on the land.

A strip of land adjoining the vineyard will grow an assortment of wildflowers. Loretta Briede said this insectiary will attract beneficial insects such as green lacewing that eat aphids and other pests.

When the grapevines grow taller, the Briedes plan to let sheep and chickens graze, eat bugs and fertilize the grass in the vineyard during the offseason.

A fence surrounding the vineyard keeps deer out with a corridor that lets them pass through.

“You have all of these things going, the birds eat insects and there’s a chain of life,” Loretta Briede said. “It happens in the ground too, and when you spray chemicals, you take one of those out of the equation. There’s little aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, there’s mycorrhizal fungi that actually allows the plant to uptake nutrients. So if you spray chemicals on them and get rid of that, the plant is not going to be able to metabolize quite as readily as it can naturally.”

The Briedes, who have been living on their 25 acre Winchester property since 1989, began planting their first rows of grapes over Easter weekend.

The two grape varieties they planted, Cayuga white and Arandell, were developed by researchers at Cornell University and were chosen by the Briedes for their resistance to diseases such as downy mildew, powdery mildew and black rot.

Loretta Briede said the Arandell grapes make a medium-bodied wine similar to a Malbec that can have flavors of blueberry. The Cayuga white grapes make a wine similar to a Riesling, she said.

She said they’ve been consulting with a biodynamic vineyard in the Sonoma Valley of California called Benziger Family Winery that educates people on the process and serves as their mentor.

“A lot of farms in California are switching over [to biodynamics] because they make a superior quality wine,” she said. “They wouldn’t put that much effort and time and money into making something unless it was superior.”

The Briedes said they plan to expand the vineyard, experiment with different grape varieties and open it up to educate the public if things go well, but would like to stay small.

“If we’re successful at this, considering how much wine is in Virginia, it will change the way things are done,” Loretta Briede said. “It will make a positive impact.”

Paul Briede said they hope to harvest their first grapes in about three years, which they will use to produce their own wine. He said they plan on adding a tasting room to their property.

The Briede Family Vineyards is located behind their home on Green Spring Road in northern Winchester.

For more information, visit their Facebook page or their website at thebriedefamilyvineyards.com

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com