Monte Creek Winery has been exploring utilizing plants native to the valleys of the Southern Interior of British Columbia. Cover crops are what winegrowers plant between the rows of grapes in vineyards in order to enhance grape quality and the vineyard environment. Many wineries have moved beyond the old-school image of bare dirt between our vineyard rows, but some wineries, like Monte Creek, are taking it a step further by utilizing native plants and by constructing specific blends for our soil type and vineyard quality targets.
Depending on what the winegrower is trying to achieve, cover crops may have a variety of beneficial effects. Plantings of mustard or various other brassicas are known to have a fumigant effect and are able to reduce populations of vine harming parasitic nematodes. Certain vineyards may have a lack of nitrogen, and so a variety of legumes can be helpful in adding nitrogen to the soil without the need for chemical fertilizers or other external inputs. Conversely, some vineyards may have an excess of nitrogen, which may be less desirable as it may lead to extensive grapevine canopy and leaf growth, so savvy winegrowers may plant blends of grasses or various perennials to pull nitrogen from the soil. Other species with large taproots, such as radish, are useful for reducing the soil compaction that can occur when heavy tractors are used within the vineyard. While still other plants can enhance weed suppression, promote beneficial insects and pollinators, improve water holding capacity, or stabilize soils prone to erosion.
What grows between the rows of a vineyard may not be something many wine drinkers have considered. However, wineries like Monte Creek are demonstrating that in order to achieve the high-quality wine consumers expect while enhancing the environments the winery farms, the cover crop is a critical component in determining success. Utilizing these indigenous plants also ensures that when consumers try a Monte Creek wine they are getting the most accurate representation of Similkameen terroir.