Digging Deeper: King Estate Returns to its Roots in Pursuit of Biodynamic® Certification

As a company grows—particularly if it grows rapidly—it often risks pulling away from the values that first inspired it to form. Preventing such misdirection takes extraordinarily focused leadership. One company tending their roots with uncommon care is King Estate Winery, longtime bastion of progressive Oregon viticulture and winemaking.

As the winery marks its 25th anniversary, it renews its original vision by pursuing Biodynamic® certification from Demeter USA, the gold standard in agriculture. With 1,033 acres (465 planted under vine), King Estate is on track to become the largest Biodynamic winery in the United States, and one of the largest in the world.

“It’s important to our family that King Estate Winery lives its philosophy of respecting our land,” says Ed King III, who launched the winery with his father Ed Jr. in 1991. “From 10,000 B.C. to 1945 A.D., all agriculture was organic. Our obligation is to future generations.”

Jenny Ulum, the winery’s strategic communication manager, echoes these thoughts: “The Kings’ commitment to environmental stewardship is long-standing and evident in our daily practices. [Our philosophy is] if we aren’t in harmony with the land, then we shouldn’t be in business.”

History of Sustainability

King Estate, specializing in Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, has been certified organic since 2002 by Oregon Tilth. The winery furthermore boasts a strong record of sustainable practices:

  • No synthetic chemicals—herbicides, fertilizers, or pesticides—are used on its property.
  • A protected natural habitat composed of 150 acres of marshes, a riparian corridor, and a remnant of wet prairie is home to up to 200 species of native wildlife including several listed as rare, threatened, or endangered.
  • In partnership with nearby Cascades Raptor Center, the property serves as a release site for orphaned and rehabilitated birds of prey. These native wild raptors also aid in pest control by reducing the numbers of rodents and birds that eat grapes.
  • Its 4,144 solar panels produce enough power to meet the needs of 100 homes a year and eliminate more than 38 million pounds of carbon dioxide over the next 25 years.
  • Organic certification applies to all 1,033 acres of the estate as well as to the winemaking process, the winery, and the grapes.

Pursuing Biodynamic Certification

Converting to Biodynamic status is a natural next step forward in King Estate’s commitment to the environment. But what does that mean, exactly?

Biodynamics is a body of knowledge derived from the “Agricultural Course” by Dr. Rudolf Steiner, noted scientist, philosopher, and founder of the Waldorf School. In 1924, a group of European farmers approached Steiner after noticing an alarmingly rapid decline in seed fertility and animal health. In response, Steiner offered the following advice, which ran sharply counter to the factory farming practices of the day:

“Now a farm comes closest to its own essence when it can be conceived of as a kind of independent individuality, a self-contained entity. In reality, every farm ought to aspire to this state of being a self-contained individuality.”

Following Steiner’s publications, a cooperative was formed to market Biodynamic produce, and in 1928 the Demeter Farm Standard was introduced, along with a trademark, to ensure that the farming methods were uniformly followed and monitored. By 1931, there were approximately 1,000 Biodynamic certified farms. Now, there are more than 352,080 acres in 47 countries.

Demeter’s criterions are rigorous. For example, while the USDA, which operates the National Organic Program, allows individual parcels within a farm to be certified organic, Demeter requires that the entire farm be certified. Demeter goes further than the USDA by requiring that:

  • 10 percent of total acreage be set aside for biodiversity purposes.
  • Most or all fertilizers be sourced from the farm itself.
  • Pest, disease, and weed control, and livestock feed all come from the farm itself.

Ray_NucloAccording to Ray Nuclo, King Estate Winery operations manager, this reliance on local materials stands to enhance a wine’s terroir. “Not only does biodynamics make sense from a sustainable and philosophical standpoint,” says Nuclo, “it also allows for the greatest expression of place. The more we decrease outside inputs, the greater ability for the wine to express the site where the wine is grown.”

Nuclo worked as a vineyard manager and grower relations liaison for King Estate for many years before recently accepting a position as operations manager, with the primary goal of leading the company to Biodynamic certification. For all practical purposes, Nuclo manages the project, but hails Ed King III as keeper of the company’s environmental flame. “Ed’s the driving force behind this effort. And [his commitment] is what really drew me to work with this winery.”

Nuclo notes that many of the requirements for Biodynamic certification are the same as for organic certification. King Estate has long been certified organic, so some of the process was seamless. Naturally, however, challenges have arisen. “There has been a bit of a learning curve,” he admits. “[Certification] requires a lot of reporting.”

The team at King Estate will at last see their efforts realized in September, and the 2016 harvest will be the first to be labeled certified Biodynamic.

Meanwhile, King Estate not only works to realize its company principles, but to share those principles with other winemakers and wine lovers, too. “The best way to share our ideals is to have a product that exhibits those ideals.”

In other words, the proof is in the Pinot—so, drink up.

About the Author

Amy Bess Cook (https://amybesscook.com) has been a working writer for 16 years. For half that time, she managed a boutique winery in Sonoma. With a zeal for creative entrepreneurship and a passion for the vine, Amy Bess now works as a writer and brand consultant within the wine industry. Check out her harvest journal and winemaking project here: https://www.sirseethegift.com/.

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