By Hayley Hunter, ASU sustainable food systems graduate student
Where the Verde River and Oak Creek converge lies Alcantara Vineyard, a "family-owned, sustainably-farmed, and passionately tended vineyard in the heart of Arizona wine country." Ron and Chris have been managing the 13-acre, 22,000 vines since 2018, transitioning from conventional practices to sustainable ones.
The land was initially turned into a vineyard in 2004, with 17 varietals planted. In 2018, new owners took over, and Ron and Chris were hired. When they came on board, the vineyard had been tended to conventionally (using glyphosate, copper sulfates, etc.). The pair originally continued to run the vineyard conventionally but noticed declining health among the 20-year-old grape vines, which are supposed to live 40-50 years. They decided to start the journey into sustainable viticulture.
The first few years after transitioning away from conventional saw some yield declines. However, this past year, they started to see change in the vineyard: more beneficial organisms were showing up, a sign of the ecosystem becoming healthier. They explained that they've "seen a lot of qualitative changes, going from conventional. We've witnessed vines come back from practically being dead."
Ron and Chris are trying to get as much organic matter into the soil as possible. They incorporate other crops underneath their vines such as daikon radishes, barley, ryegrass, and more. This intentional intercropping serves as a buffer, promotes water infiltration, and creates habitats for various organisms.
They want to create a circular economy on their farm and in the larger community. Waste from one process becomes a resource for another. "Say goodbye to all of that [fertilizer bills, pesticide bills] and turn your waste into a circular economy where it's going back out or repeating everything because that helps the community. We're using the community, and the community is using us." They've forged relationships with kombucha and growing facilities to get tea and potting soil. These byproducts find new life in the vineyard, enhancing soil fertility.
As the only vineyard in the area embracing sustainability, they have become an inspiration for fellow growers, offering a testament to the viability and benefits of a pesticide-free vineyard.
This blog is part of a series from the Swette Center's annual Arizona Food and Farm Immersion, a required course in their two graduate programs. Students tour the state, meeting with farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, government staff, and non-profit leaders.