Sustainable Practices at Rancho Réal Vineyard

Located in the northern region of Santa Barbara County lies the Rancho Réal Vineyard. In the mild, cool climate of the Santa Maria Valley AVA, The Language of Yes grows Syrah, Grenache and Viognier, and it is here where winemaker Randall Grahm has introduced several sustainable measures and novel practices in the vineyard.

The Language of Yes team recently spoke with Randall about these practices employed at Rancho Réal.

The Language of Yes:
When the grapes are en passerillage, the vineyard team applies native yeast to the clusters. Does this method reduce potential deleterious bacterial growth and thus reduce the need for sulfur (SO2) in the winery to combat volatile acidity?

Randall Grahm:
“We (lightly) spray a non-saccharomyces yeast onto the whole clusters after they’ve been laid out on paper trays to dry.  (The yeast has an alcohol tolerance of just a few degrees, so it ultimately dies off when the saccharomyces population kicks in.)  But as the grapes sit out, the non-saccharomyces yeast acts as a sort of bio-film or bio-protectant – out-competing the sundry spoilage organisms (chiefly acetobacter, Pediococcus, etc.) that might infect the grapes at that point (and coincidentally obviating the need for a SO2 addition at that stage).  We’ve found, happily enough, that the wines so treated tend to end up with very low levels of volatile acidity, which is a beautiful thing indeed.”

Irrigation Management

The Language of Yes:
The Syrah and Grenache Blocks at Rancho Réal have a unique irrigation system. Rather than placing micro-drip emitters at each vine, irrigation is delivered to the center of the row, away from the vine. What inspired you to try this method of irrigation? How is it reflected in vine growth and the subsequent wine?

Randall Grahm:
“This method, which I believe to be very powerful and useful, came about pretty much from deductive thinking, i.e., reasoning from first principles, but the basic principle is to irrigate at a distance from the main trunk, inducing the plant to traverse a larger soil volume to find water, rather than find it in a more constricted area, as if in its own flowerpot.   A more robust root system should result in a) greater drought tolerance, b) greater uptake of minerals, and c) generally more robust vine health.

The idea, in sum, is to modify the plant’s microclimate such that it is constantly slightly stressed, but never entirely stressed out.  This is pretty much one of the hallmarks of what a great terroir does.”


The Language of Yes:
To improve plant and planet health, biochar is mixed with compost and spread in the vineyard, precluding synthetic fertilizers. Biochar was named one of the top five natural climate solutions for climate change mitigation by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), a United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. How does biochar enhance the soil’s ecosystem, and how does it affect the grapevine?

Randall Grahm:
“Biochar is a soil amendment that both enhances the water-holding capacity of soil as well as acts as a substrate and nutrient base for certain beneficial symbiotic soil microflora, to wit, the mycorrhizae that live in the roots of the plant. It enables the plant to actively transport micronutrients into the roots – a sort of terroir amplifier if you will.  Biochar enhances the vines’ drought tolerance and overall health. Incidentally, it sequesters carbon in the soil for approximately 10,000 years (more or less).”

Certified Sustainable

In addition to Randall’s unconventional practices at Rancho Réal, the vineyard is also certified sustainable, as are the other vineyards that supply fruit for The Language of Yes throughout the Central Coast. You can find the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance seal on the back label of our 2022 vintages of Syrah and Grenache.



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