When Paicines Ranch teamed up with Oakland-based Red Hen Collective to create a weekend focused on regenerative wine practices, they built an all-encompassing experience that went beyond just wine. More diversity in the wine business and access to both resources and land were just a few of the topics discussed in the February event held at Paicines Ranch.
Kelly Mulville, director of vineyard operations at Paicines Ranch and a member of the Regenerative Wine Convening Team, told BenitoLink that regenerative wine growing is more than just producing great wine, but also looking at how to restore health to the ecosystem.
Regenerative farming practices include keeping the ground covered throughout the year by growing plants and/or using mulch, reducing or ideally eliminating tillage, and encouraging native vegetation and pollinators.
Mulville and his team are spearheading integrating livestock in the Paicines Ranch vineyard throughout the year.
“What ends up happening then by managing carefully, is you increase your soil’s carbon and organic matter, which helps you increase your fertility and water holding capacity,” he said.
Group focuses on transformative work
Organizers first looked at how they could incorporate people from different parts of the industry to create a holistic view of regenerative wine practices and deliver quality wine to consumers. A healthy ecosystem can also mean including different perspectives and backgrounds in the wine industry.
Red Hen Collective founder Molly Madden said a question while creating the invitation list was, “If we had a diverse ecosystem of humans, what would that look like?” Madden was one of five working to put on the weekend convention.
Wine industry representatives ranged from those involved in the supply chain, wine making, finance lending, journalism, restaurants, vineyards, and food justice advocates.
Attendees came from as far away as Vermont, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia and New York.
“If we want to do transformative work, we need everybody,” Madden said.
“The objective [of the wine convention] was to get a bunch of people working on this in the same room, and to learn from each other and to primarily connect,” Mullvile said.
She said,“Working cross silo is extraordinarily rich. Even if we all don’t work in the same sector of the wine industry, we are all in the wine industry.”
The group scrapped the traditional seminar format of all attendees sitting in chairs and looking toward the front of a room to a chosen expert speaking to the audience. Instead, they sat in large circles facing one another in an attempt to create a community where ideas and dialogue flowed through the group.
As conversations unfolded, facilitators and participants were able to get to the heart of issues facing the industry.
“Challenges a lot of people were facing that came up was access to resources, capital and land,” said Megan Mendehall, part of the Regenerative Wine Convening Team and marketing and communications director at the Paicines Ranch Learning Center. “A big one that came up was biodiversity, not only on the land but in the people as well,” she said
Sheree Williams of Oakland, Ca. was struck by the diversity of people and the richness of conversation. Williams is the publisher and editor of Cuisine Noir Magazine, a lifestyle magazine focused on “telling stories of anyone of African descent from around the world.” Key areas of focus for the publication include food, wine, and travel.
“One of the things I have really become passionate about is just an effort in inclusion and diversity in the wine industry,” Williams said. “You want to make sure a variety of groups and individuals are represented.”
Williams said she has seen people of color not fully represented in the wine industry and often left out of the discussion. She asked if the same resources given to white farmers were also accessible to farmers of color.
“This is why we have to step out of the comfort zone of just inviting vineyard owners,” said Madden. “We can hold these stakeholder gatherings with transformative change.”
The group found a deeper appreciation for the various roles in the industry.
“It was great meeting the farmers and having the ‘ah ha!’ moments,” Williams said.
Mulville said it was emotionally supportive to know that others working in the same sector are dealing with the same difficulties.
“Looking back, I was really impressed with what others are doing in their places, wherever they came from, and the quality of lines they are producing and the depths of passions that people had for making a difference from the land all the way to the wine being produced,” Madden said.
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