Biodynamic Farming Revives DeLoach Vineyards in California's Russian River Valley

The heir of a long European winemaking tradition, Jean-Charles Boisset brought a chemical-laden vineyard back to life with organic gardening techniques and lots of TLC.

| March/April 2011

  • Winegrower Eric Pooler demonstrates his method of mixing Biodynamic Prep 501, a mixture of crushed quartz and water.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • “Earth and Sky,” an 18-foot bronze statue, greets winery guests as they enter the DeLoach Vineyards tasting room and organic garden picnic area.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • A crate of freshly picked pinot noir grapes awaits transformation into wine.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Writer Kim Wallace helps spray pinot noir grapes with a mix of powdered quartz and water, which acts as a desiccant, absorbing water and preventing fungal growth.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • In the DeLoach picnic area, guests enjoy chardonnay and fresh-picked garden greens.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • A vineyard visitor picks greens from a garden bed.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • DeLoach uses traditional, small French oak fermentors and Old World winemaking techniques.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • DeLoach stores hundreds of bottles in its extensive wine cellar. Guests can enjoy them through group or private wine tastings, winery tours, picnics and group dinners.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne

When winemaker Jean-Charles Boisset first visited California’s pristine Russian River Valley, he felt an immediate, intimate connection with the land. It reminded him of home. A native of the Burgundy region of France, Jean-Charles was drawn to the valley’s flowing river, gorgeous mountains and sumptuous soil. He was so taken with the lush terrain—and its potential for producing world-class wines—that in 2003 he added DeLoach Vineyards, an 18-acre, family-owned estate, to his winemaking family’s generations-old repertoire. Potential turned out to be a key word: The vineyards had been polluted by decades of chemical-intense farming practices that had left it lifeless. Jean-Charles called upon his family heritage to revive the tired soil. 

The French term terroir denotes a particular, site-specific set of flavor qualities that derive from soil, weather and growing practices, and Jean-Charles knew his California land had the potential to create amazing flavors. “When I first visited Sonoma County, I was inspired by the incredible potential of Russian River Valley terroir to grow great pinot noir,” Jean-Charles says. “But I knew that in order to make wine that fully expressed the great Russian River Valley, we would first need to restore health to the land.”

Dynamic Biodynamics 

Jean-Charles’ first initiative was to revitalize the chemical-laden soil by reconstructing its ecological harmony. To do this, he turned to biodynamic agriculture, a “beyond organic” farming method developed in the 1920s by Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner, who also founded the Waldorf schools. Jean-Charles’ faith in biodynamic agriculture stemmed from his upbringing in Burgundy. “My sister and I were taught by our grandparents at a very young age to be stewards of the land,” he says.  The Boisset family, one of the largest exporters and producers of fine French wine, continues a long tradition of eco-conscious farming in its estate vineyards.

Biodynamic farming’s guiding principle is to treat the land as a self-contained, self-sustaining ecosystem that creates and maintains its health and vitality without external or unnatural additions. Soil, plants, farm animals and humans work together to create a holistic, living organism: the thriving biodynamic farm. “What is essential, I think, in biodynamics is the essence of what we call terroir,” Jean-Charles says. “And terroir is the definition of the earth, the plant and the climate—in addition to the passion of the individual—really working together.”

Rebuilding Living Soil 



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