Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 8

Fi ned &
FI LT ER ED

REGENERATIVE
ORGANICS

by PATRICK J. COMISKEY

On a spring day in 2018, Tablas Creek winemaker Neil Collins drove from Paso
Robles to Ventura, California, to attend a dinner at Paradise Pantry, a locavoredriven restaurant. That evening they were serving biodynamically raised lamb
culled from Tablas Creek's working herd of weed- and cover crop-munchers.
There, Collins met Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, the outdoorclothing company, and a vociferous advocate for organic farming.

TABLAS CREEK SHEPHERD
NATHAN STUART

8

WINE & SPIRITS

Collins, who's more of a Carhartt guy, admits that
he'd never really been much of a fan of Patagonia, a
brand he referred to as "Patagucci," though his viticulturist, Jordy Lonborg, was a massive enthusiast,
as was his son, an avid rock climber.
Within ten minutes of meeting, Collins and
Chouinard were deep in conversation about saving
the planet. For Chouinard, the first step was to upend
existing agricultural practices. "He said, 'The only
way we're going to change the climate is if we change
the way we farm,'" Collins recalls.
The discussion moved on to regenerative organic
agriculture, a comprehensive organic practice Patagonia was implementing in its cotton contracts; it
had also taken the first steps toward codifying the
practice with a governing body. At the end of the
dinner, Collins asked about getting involved. A few
months later, the Regenerative Organic Alliance
(ROA) asked Tablas Creek to be its pilot winery.
ROA is spearheaded by the Rodale Institute
in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and two companies
devoted to environmentally conscious capitalism,
Patagonia and Dr. Bronner's, most famous for its castile soap. ROA's approach is designed to reverse the
effects of industrial farming by advocating practices
that improve soil health, incentivize carbon sequestration and treat animals and humans humanely.
"Right now, today's farming paradigm is a chemical system," says viticulturist Paul Dolan, who serves
on ROA's board. "It's organized around chemical
remedies and synthetic inputs in order to function.
Regenerative organics and biodynamics are biological systems: it's farming in the service of life, the life
of the farmer, the workers, the soils, the microbes,
the plants and animals they grow, the consumers
who eat them."
ROA uses existing standards, like USDA Organic,
Certified Humane and Fair Trade USA to serve as
compliance rungs toward Regenerative Organic

DECEMBER 2020

Certification, and then relies on on-site audits by
existing certifying bodies like QCS, Ecocert and
Mayacert to confirm compliance to the remaining
criteria. There are currently three tiers of certification: bronze, silver and gold.
Collins had little trouble convincing Jason Haas,
Tablas Creek's general manager and son of its
founder, Robert Haas, to take this on: "We're always
looking for ways to move forward," says Haas. "This
one was easy." Tablas Creek was already a Demetercertified property and well along in its compliance
for agricultural practices and animal care (the property maintains a herd of about 200 sheep, as well
as bees, alpacas, donkeys, chickens, sheep dogs,
herding dogs and winery dogs. ("We like dogs," says
Lonborg.) Nathan Stuart has been employed as the
property's full-time shepherd and animal steward
since 2016.
Much of the agricultural compliance fell to Lonborg and his vineyard manager, David Maduena.
Since Tablas Creek was the pilot winery, feedback
was a vital part of the trial. Lonborg found the biggest stumbling block to be ROA's emphasis on notill farming, a challenge in the semi-arid climate of
Paso Robles. "I can guarantee you that in Pennsylvania they don't have the sort of vertebrate pest issues
we have," says Lonborg, referring to his year-round
battle with gophers. Nor do they have star thistle, an
invasive weed with thorns strong enough to puncture
a tractor tire.
For Collins and Lonborg, the most inspiring part
of the process was ROA's human pillar. "Labor is
the dark side of agriculture," says Lonborg. "Not
so much in the wine industry, but up and down the
West Coast these people get taken advantage of." His
12-member crew, many of whom have been with Tablas Creek for the better part of two decades, participated in teambuilding exercises and roundtable discussions, opening new channels of communication



Wine & Spirits - December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Wine & Spirits - December 2020

Contents
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Cover1
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Cover2
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 1
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 2
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Contents
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 4
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 5
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 6
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 7
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 8
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 9
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Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 11
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 12
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Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Cover3
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