Helena Dakota Vineyard

Sustainable Land Management: Open Spaces

Usually when people pay for land they want to make it as productive as possible. Most farmers don’t have a lot to talk about when it comes to setting aside “open space” land from farming land; but planting more doesn’t always make an acre (or many acres) more productive or profitable.

In fact, maintaining the natural balance of open space with farmed land can be a beneficial approach for both the environment and business.

Jess Jackson had an incredible passion for the spending time in the natural, rugged beauty of California. Luckily for all of us, his desire to make great wine from beautiful places led us develop vineyards with a very healthy balance of vineyards and open space.

In fact only 31% of our land is planted to vineyards. There are few private wineries — much less publicly traded wineries — that tip the scale in favor of nature that much.

To be fair, we do have some vineyards that have less open space. Some of those we purchased in that state and others were open pasture that was cleared except for grasses. In both those cases we maintain the natural environment on the perimeter of the vineyard to yield many of the same benefits as open space. We also have planted over 5,500 trees in these vineyards.

Balancing open space land with farming land provides a natural habitat for wildlife to live in and about the vineyard. Breaking up the vineyard blocks with open space maintains corridors which allow fauna to travel freely to other natural resources like water, food and shelter.

Open space with existing fauna, or seeded by us with native plants, help prevent soil erosion during the rainy season.  This helps keep mud out of streams — protecting fish spawning grounds, but also reducing expensive farming costs for man-made erosion control. Less erosion leads to less water run-off, which helps to recharge the subsurface aquifers.

Finally, native plants provide habitat for beneficial insects that come into the vineyard and prey on the harmful pests that like to disrupt grape vines. Beneficial insects can have a real financial benefit to all kinds of farming because we have to do less work to get the bad creepy crawlers out.

I guess it really all comes down to balancing nature and human needs. In the long run the more we keep the balance in nature’s favor the greater benefits will be down the road. It just takes some vision to realize that fact and stay the course.