“It starts with recognizing that the soil, like the vines and other plants, is alive,” says CEO Ezra Cipes, one of three Cipes brothers now actively involved in the Kelowna operation. “It means the vines find their place within the ecosystem. Each plant has its own relationship to the soil and the world around it.”
He points over to the vines growing near the winery. “You don’t see just a single green colour—there are all shades from yellowish to dark.” Between the vine rows there is no sign of tilled soil. The ground cover of native plants is a natural ally with the grapevines, protecting the important work going on in the soil below. Vetches, clover and alfalfa all fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil where the vines’ roots thrive.
Biodynamic practices help to restore some of nature’s balance, reducing chances of an epidemic that requires a medicative approach. And relationships develop among the soil, vegetation and bugs, “bringing a balance back into the farm. We do everything we can to keep life in the soil—it’s the plants’ immune system.”
Taking a break from his own work in the vineyards, Gabe, now Canada’s representative on Demeter, describes biodynamics as “a spiritual science.”
“There is a joy in it,” he says. “It puts you in touch with the natural rhythms of the planet.”
Ezra takes another stab at describing biodynamics. “It means being part of your farm and working with nature versus dominating nature.”
And it encourages the growth of plants like nettle, yarrow, valerian, dandelion and chamomile, all of which have been used for thousands of years of civilization.
Gabe says such medicinal plants have tremendous benefits and they grow easily in the semi-desert Okanagan conditions, creating additional value to vineyards and helping farmers to see vineyards as more than monocultures.
On the Summerhill property, about half of the 80 acres is planted to grapevines, with about 30 acres kept as wildlife preserve, wetland, dryland and meadow.
Gabe makes nine natural preparations to encourage healthy soil activity, some of which include fermenting herbs in animal innards, others using cow horns, which are buried according to moon phases. And composting is almost a religion.
“This is real farming,” he smiles. “There’s lots of interest in it around here. I’ve been giving away lots of horns and preparations.”
~ Lorne Eckersley