Garden lovers attending the annual Chelsea Flower Show in London expect to be wowed by dazzling displays of landscaping and flora, but one exhibit this year was more than a little unusual. Bonterra, a winery in California's Mendocino County that farms organically grown grapes, was there to show off its earth-friendly viticultural techniques -- making it the first vineyard ever to exhibit at the show.
Grapevines, of course, were part of Bonterra's "Organic Wine Garden," but there were also rows of red clover mingled with field poppies and birdhouses made of dried gourds, hanging on a cork tree, for visitors to admire.
Held in late May, the Chelsea Flower Show marks the start of the British social calendar, and brings garden aficionados out in droves to see the latest in aesthetic plantings, to examine outdoor architectural designs and, of course, to drink Pimm's.
This year, some of the crowd also got to taste Bonterra's two latest offerings to the English market: a 2002 red blend of Shiraz, Carignane and Sangiovese and a 2002 white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat.
"The U.K. is wine-market savvy," said Simon Legge, European marketing director for Bonterra, as he sat under a hand-fashioned willow gazebo that offered little shelter from the rain dogging the show. "This is a massive boost in awareness for Bonterra," he added.
Sitting next to Legge, Bonterra winemaker John White had a different explanation for the unusual presence of a winery at a flower show. "This is really more of a logical medium to tell our story, and this garden is inspired by the way we grow our vines. If this can turn someone on to organic farming, then it is a success."
White explained that the garden's plantings were a microcosm of symbiosis in nature. Looking at the gnarly Trebbiano vines that lined the back of the garden, White detailed how all of the other aspects of the garden were meant to keep those vines healthy, without using pesticides, fungicides or chemical fertilizers.
A big compost heap of grape pumice, which is discarded after wine is fined, sat in one corner, wrapped in a basket of yellow willow branches, to serve as fertilizer. The intermingled flowers were there to help restore nitrogen levels in the soil, so fertilizer isn't needed for the vines; the flowers also encourage the presence of earthworms, said White, which beats "tilling all the time."
Planting certain flowers around the vines "invites insects such as spiders, wasps and ladybugs," which eat other insects that feed on grapes and vines, White added. This way, he said, pesticides are not needed to grow grapes.
The rain -- which at least was flower friendly -- did little to dampen the spirits of the crowd as they lined up along the garden border to get a look at the display, which cost Bonterra around $150,000 to put together.
"Is that red clover?" asked one onlooker, as she gazed at the rows of the flower lining the front of the garden. After learning her guess was correct, she told her friend, "We don't have that here. This garden is truly lovely."
After asking a few more questions, she walked away, musing to her friend, "I wonder if I could try something like that in my garden" -- thus making the Bonterra display, in White's opinion, a success.
Check our ratings of Bonterra wines.
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