A winery in Paso Robles is getting global recognition for its farming practices, through a program called Regenerative Organic Certification.
Tablas Creek Vineyard is leading the way in becoming the first vineyard in the world to have this certification, but they are hoping they won’t be the last.
Jason Haas’ father started Tablas Creek Vineyard in 1989 when the Haas family imported grapevines from France.
“Our kind of founding idea was that California is essentially a Mediterranean climate," Hass said. "So if we could find the right spot, we should be able to do really well with the same grapes they are used to using in Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the south of France.”
Now the vineyard has 270 acres producing various Rhone-style blends and varietal wines. But what makes this winery unique from others is its farming practices.
In 2019, the vineyard took part in a pilot program of a new approach to farming called Regenerative Organic. While different types of crop farms have received this certification internationally, Tablas Creek is so far the only vineyard to achieve the goals of the program and granted the acknowledgment.
“It’s big picture farming. It’s not just what’s going on in your dirt," Haas said. "But it's also, how you treat your people, it’s how you treat any animals that you have and it is a commitment to using your farm to try to address some of the challenges that the world is facing.”
Viticulturist for Tablas Creek Vineyard, Jordan Longborg, said it’s really about taking farming to the next level. Such as finding innovative and environmentally better ways to help combat climate change.
“It’s pretty scary when it comes to conventional forms of farming and holding back nature," Longborg said. "Through organics and biodynamics, you develop this mindset of working with nature.”
Longborg said conventional farming has a recipe—such as if you have certain types of pests, you throw this type of pesticide on it. But Regenerative Organic Farming (ROC) means you have to think outside the box.
“So you have to be creative," Longborg said. "You have to spend more time in your field and you have to think about what repercussions that will have and you have to think about every step.”
In one step to help keep the soil in balance without using chemicals, the vineyard uses a flock of 200 sheep to graze and refertilize the soil.
Haas said their vineyard has the same problems every vineyard has, but they use the natural cycle to help solve them.
“I mean we have issues with gophers. Every vineyard in California has issues with gophers," Haas said. "We’ve got 39 owl boxes scattered around the property with nesting pairs of owls in them every spring, and they eat the gophers. That’s a natural way of controlling something so you don’t need to use poison.”
Haas said what separates ROC from most other certifications is its 'social welfare pillar,' because it's far too common to find farmworkers being taken advantage of, he said, and this certification has a goal of eliminating that problem.
“Basically you have been audited and have been shown that your workers are being paid a living wage," Haas said. "You have to make sure they understand their rights, that they are able to organize if they want to, that their conditions are safe and that they have the ability to contribute to management in decision making.”
Haas and Longborg said they aren't sure if the practices actually make the wine taste any better, but they think people drinking their wine will appreciate the extra efforts that go into their farming and standards for their workers.
For wine tasting guest George Tomsen, he said reading about the winery and their environmentally-friendly farming practices made him appreciate the wine more.
“Not everybody can accomplish that," Tomsen said. "As a matter of fact, I would say very few can accomplish that.”
Tomsen thinks once this becomes more of a trend with other wineries throughout the area, more people will come into the wine region.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet thing because I love telling people about Paso," Tomesen said. "But I don’t want too many people to come to Paso!”
Now that the program is opened up for any farm to learn the ROC farming practices, Haas hopes this becomes an international movement of farming responsibly.
“We are just one farm. I mean this is a tiny percentage of the farm area in the United States and of the world," Haas said. " The more people who can adopt these sorts of practices that are going to be a part of the solution, the better off we all are.”