Viticulturist Mimi Casteel walking the vineyards / Photo by Aubrie Legault
Mimi Casteel is deeply rooted to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. She grew up at her parents’ trailblazing winery, Bethel Heights, in Eola-Amity Hills, and later stewarded the family vineyards to a more sustainable place. Today, Casteel tends her own vines on the site of a former Christmas tree farm just 10 miles from Bethel called Hope Well Wine.
While her small-batch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have an avid fan base, it’s Casteel’s regenerative farming outside the winery that gets the most attention. With a background in forest ecology, botany and systems biology, Casteel is an authoritative advocate for a “no-till” farming approach that she believes has the power to combat climate change and undo decades of ecological damage. We recently caught up with Casteel to learn more about the many layers of farming regeneratively.
Mimi Casteel sitting on a compost mound / Photo by Aubrie Legault
How does regenerative farming differ from other forms of sustainable viticulture?
I’ll say it the way I practice it, because all of these labels are pretty meaningless. It’s the philosophy behind them that’s what really matters. The way I practice farming is to look beyond the silos of sustainability that we’ve created, where either it’s about removing systemic [pesticides, which are absorbed into plants and distributed through their tissues] in organics, say, or focusing on teas in biodynamics. [Regenerative farming] is really about looking at an ecosystem upon which we are trying to impose an agricultural system and repairing the broken cycles of nutrient and energy flows by facilitating those flows from a functional, structural standpoint.
How do current farming practices, even those that might be sustainable, organic or otherwise, contribute to climate change?
Most forms of agriculture are contributing something in the way of emissions. But what often gets overlooked is the contribution of organic carbon. When we till the ground with discs, cultivators, plows or whatever implement used…the organic carbon that is stored both in the top layer of soil as organic matter and then deeper down in the soil as stronger carbon compounds, those get oxidized when they’re exposed to light and air.