Nichole Birdsall was studying for a degree in nutritional science when she became fascinated with fermentation, an interest strong enough to prompt a career switch. "I was amazed by how yeast creates flavors and aromas," she says. Today, Birdsall’s the organic winemaker for Mendocino County’s Bonterra Vineyards, which grows all its grapes organically. She makes nine wines for Bonterra and two other organic labels, Five Hills Blue and Full Circle. "I love the synergy between vineyards and wine," Birdsall says, "but it takes years to see the finished product." For instant gratification, she turns to cooking, using ingredients from her garden in comfort foods like pork tacos and Asian chicken noodle soup. And she brews her own beer: "I love the chemistry of it."
Nichole Birdsall’s Gardening Secrets
"I plant native legumes such as blue and yellow lupines to add nitrogen to the soil. Plus, they make for a pretty cover crop."
"I believe in supplying habitats for natural pest fighters. I build bat boxes in my garden—the bats feed on all kinds of insects."
"I turn grape stems into mulch to help prevent weeds. They also increase the earthworm population; worms eat the microbes that feed on residual sugars in the stems."
"I use organic products like kelp, poultry feathers and fish emulsion to keep my yard and garden healthy. These natural fertilizers are full of nutrients. They’re all available at farm and garden supply stores."