Wine Importing and Marketing Services

The Ancient Technique That Could Save a Vineyard from Ruin

Photo Courtesy of Glodow Nead

Could biochar be the next important ingredient in regenerative agriculture? Wineries and grape growers in California are starting to learn about the possibilities of this ancient and vital technique for cultivating healthy soils.

A new word to describe fine-grained charcoal made from biomass sources, biochar is high in organic carbon whose primary purpose is soil enhancement. It’s also a helpful tool in combatting climate change.

As head of the Sonoma Ecology Center and director of the Sonoma Biochar Initiative (SBI), Raymond Baltar is trying to spread the word.

“Biochar is a key ingredient in a new carbon-negative strategy that offers solutions to several critical current ecological, energy and economic challenges,” says Baltar. “It isn’t a fertilizer or food source for plants or microbes. Biochar’s use in soil is new, exciting and not fully understood yet.”

To create biochar, waste from agriculture and forestry, like vine cuttings or felled trees, are burned under intense heat that is managed in such a way as to maximize their carbon and convert the materials into as pure a form as possible.

“One of the many ways we are building our soil health is by integrating the application of biochar into our vineyard management program,” says Tony Chapman, the director of winemaking for Donum Estate in Sonoma. “Biochar is an incredible, stable form of carbon that we make from materials collected from our own olive tree prunings, vine prunings and tree debris.”

After the burning process, the material cools and is mixed into Donum’s compost. Then it’s applied to the vineyard.