Vintner Preston gets back to farming fundamentals

Lambs running amok in the vineyards?

Lou Preston calls this ?diversified farming? and it seems to be working for him. Preston is the vintner behind our Wine-of-the-Week, the Preston of Dry Creek, 2007 Old Vines/Old Clones Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel at $32.

?You might think having animals in the vineyards would be hard to manage,? Preston said. ?Let?s just say way we?re doing it. It?s a challenge, but it?s also exciting.?

During a recent visit to the Healdsburg winery, Preston said his goal is to optimize the soil within the grapes? ?terroir,? known as the character of the vineyard site. ?When you farm naturally, you?re encouraging local inherent characteristics to express themselves in the wine. ... You create your nutrition and your vines. It?s not imported.?

In addition to animals grazing on cover crops, there are also plenty of trees and gardens among the vines. Preston said this creates a habitat for beneficial insects, allowing the winery to avoid using chemicals. ?One of the first things we did was put in a row of apple trees,? he said. ?People just don?t do that, take out a row of grapes for apple trees.?

The animals are rotated throughout the vineyards until the first sign of bud break, and then they?re put out to pasture.

Preston, at 67, has no plans to retire. The antithesis of pinstripe, Preston wears a flannel shirt, jeans and Birkenstocks clogs. This farmer of wine is at home on his 125-acre spread in Dry Creek Valley and he?s happy to forgo vintner travel altogether.

About a decade ago the frequent flyer decided to ground himself, downsizing his 25,000-case production to 8,000. This shift has allowed him to stay put, freeing him up for the unexpected.

?The other night I did something I never thought I?d be doing 10 years ago or even one year ago,? Preston said. ?I bottle-fed a baby lamb in our living room that had been rejected from its mother. ... It?s one of the most exciting things about farming this way.?

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