Chickens make better wine?

Chickens make better wine?

Mission Hill winery is one of Kelowna’s first family-owned wineries. They were also first to bring international acclaim to Okanagan wines winning an Avery award for their 1992 Chardonnay at the International Wines and Spirits Competition judges were so shocked an Okanagan wine won they repeated the blind tests with the same result).

Now Mission Hill aims to have Canada’s biggest organic vineyard. Two years into a five-year process they are converting 1,200 acres to organic farming.

Standing beneath a bell tower reminiscent of European missions with a bell tolling every fifteen minutes (four bells represent winery owner Anthony von Mandl, his dad, mother and sister), Graham Nordin, Director of Wine Experience, explained, “becoming organic requires significantly more manual labour.”

Organic farmers get less sleep

He described how vines are vulnerable to cutworms, a nocturnal pest that eats their way up the vine stems. “Last year at 2 a.m. we (winery staff) went out with headlamps and picked cutworms off the vines and put them in buckets. We discovered it (manually picking) was the same cost as pesticides.”

Perhaps wanting more sleep, they researched other methods of pest control and found chickens eat worms. “So now we have chickens in some of our vineyards,” Nordin smiled.

Working with landscape

The vineyard also made bottles lighter to lower logistics without decreasing wine quality. They have partnered with the University of British Columbia to try to recycle wastewater on-site or use in a biofuel program.

Although the move to organic certification is recent, guests will see earlier indications that owners were sensitive to the landscape. Cellar walls are bare volcanic rock, helping with humidity control, and the gate to the property is so narrow only one car can pass at a time. That and the distance from the parking lot to the winery force visitors to slow down.

All the better to enjoy the wine and the connection to the land providing it.

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Originally published at Carol Patterson.