Why Regenerative Farming Matters for the Future of Winemaking
Having grown up at Bethel Heights, her family’s vineyard in Willamette Valley, it’s unsurprising that wine is in Mimi Casteel’s blood. After cultivating a background in forestry and ecology, a reverence for land and for preserving ecosystems in winemaking became equally part of her DNA. At Hope Well, Casteel practices regenerative farming, abstaining from tilling the land or using traditional irrigation techniques and avoiding the creation of what she calls “laboratories” out of natural ecosystems. “We’ve done that for centuries now,” Casteel says, “to our great peril.”
F&W: What drew you to regenerative farming?
MC: The wounds of the natural world have always haunted me, but I’m an optimist. I believe we have the capacity to recreate functional ecosystems on working lands, and in doing so, we can produce enough food, fiber, and wine to feed the world on less acres than we’re currently using and also stop the destruction of natural habitats. For me, we wouldn’t have to be as concerned about the health of our food if the model was based on how ecosystems actually function.
How does that play into wine, and your wine specifically?
Well, the process has to be the same in the winery and the vegetable farm. With wine, for terroir to be true, the connection to land has to be really pure and altruistic. You really have to reexamine our concept of taking care. As for my model, I’m very small production, and I’m kind of anti-social! I didn’t want to open a tasting room; I don’t want a winery chef, for instance. What I really want to do is change how people farm.
So what will it take for regenerative farming to catch on in the winemaking community?
There are vignerons around the world who are exploring regenerative practices, from Hiyu Wine Farm in Hood River, Oregon, to Luca Roagna out in Piedmont. But I’m realistic. Not every winemaker has the luxury of owning the land they source their fruit from. That said, on a larger scale, I really do believe we have a significant awareness problem overall. We have got to dissolve entrenched ideas about what it takes to feed the world and what it takes to combat climate change. I really do think that healing the land is part of the solution.
What does healing the land entail?
By using our dollars in one way or another, we all participate in how lands are managed, and I think that’s the direction this conversation needs to go in. We’ve attached this arbitrary value system to landscapes based on their factors that are physical rather than biological, but we won’t know the real potential of any of the land we’re working until we rebuild the ecosystem. As winemakers who go out and say “Oh I want something from, say, the Côte d’Or,” we need to ask ourselves how we’re maintaining the integrity of those places. We have to ask how we’re ensuring that the wines represent the full suite of living truth that comes with time and place, especially when you make a transformational product—like wine—that can live for centuries.
Wines to Try
2019 Hope Well Tuesday’s Child Pinot Noir Rosé ($42)
Light, transparent ruby in hue, this is one of the two Pinot rosés Casteel makes. Like the rhyme (“Monday’s child is fair of face; Tuesday’s child is full of grace”) the wine is graceful—but also spicy and intense, as rosés go.
2018 Hope Well Chardonnay Eola–Amity Hills ($75)
Taut and precise, this refined white has a light, lees-y aromatic note and expressive, lingering pear-citrus flavors. It’s hard to believe it’s only the second vintage of Casteel’s Chardonnay from her estate vineyard.
2018 Hope Well Pinot Noir Eola–Amity Hills ($75)
Despite the modest alcohol level (12.7%), this graceful Pinot comes from a concentrated vintage, and that shows in the wine’s intense dark cherry and rhubarb aromatics and firm, fine tannins.