Pondering the future of nature and wine

John Christensen
Panelists listen as Hans Walter-Peterson makes a point.

A panel discussion entitled “Future of Nature: Wine” was held Thursday, May 23 at Ravines Wine Cellars on Barracks Road in Geneva. Ravines donated a wine tasting with hors d’oeuvres for all the guests prior to the discussion, which was sponsored by Seneca Meadows Inc., the waste management and recycling facility located in Seneca Falls.

The guest panelists were Paul Brock of Silver Thread Vineyards and professor of enology and viticulture at FLCC; Jo-Anne Humphries, water quality specialist for the Nature Conservancy; Suzanne Hunt of Hunt Country Vineyards and owner of  Hunt Green LLC, a clean energy consultancy; Hans Walter-Peterson, viticulture specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension; David Wolfe, professor of integrative plant science at Cornell; with moderator Jim Howe, chapter director of The Nature Conservancy in Central and Western New York.

Answering a question of how vineyardists can be more resilient as growers in the face of more and more extreme climate change, Brock said he and others were very fortunate to have the support of Cornell in approaching system changes rather than mere point solutions. Brock says he started changing his own methods three years ago incorporating more biointensive viticulture techniques that reduce the need for synthetic pesticides and bring the soil back to life.

Humphries described farmers as “the original conservationists” on the frontline of environmental protections and defense of the invaluable resource of soil. She recommended further protections of soil by incentivizing innovative solutions, such as cover crops, and facilitating farm to farm sharing and learning.

Hunt said, “A lot of information and innovation is coming from the growers. If you want to help them change, help them mitigate the risks.” She praised the efforts of local farmers in challenging conventional practices of monocultural farming, but added that vineyards with a perennial crop, are more limited in what they can do. Hunt Country is using mulching techniques for weed control, soil improvement, and vine protection over winter. 

Walter-Peterson said variability in any season’s temperatures worries him more than simply warming summers. “The challenge we (Cornell Cooperative Extension) have is to convince farmers to make the changes.” With vineyardists facing minimal profit along with time and labor constraints, “it’s hard to motivate growers,” he said.

Wolfe described the climate trend of warmer and wetter winters, and the danger that poses in the de-hardening of vines. He advocated for the help that can be offered by climate scientists to do the analytics of the trends, and research technological advances in vineyard management and lake-friendly farming methods.

After the discussion, Howe offered key point for the Nature conservancy. “Adopting sustainable practices can pose substantial economic burdens for farmers. Consumers can help by doing research and making sustainability a priority. It’s everybody’s job to combat climate change.

“Right now, there are several legislative proposals on the table that can help New York show the nation how to effectively fight climate change,” says Howe. “One way you can help is by speaking up before June 19 to urge Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo and your state representatives to pass nation-leading climate legislation.”