Welcome to Tsolum
Welcome to Tsolum. Or, welcome to Comox Valley earth and sub soils, and some agri-science about growing grapes.
The general Comox Valley area is predominant to “Tysolum” earth. Our slightly rolling hills have medium to moderate glacial deposits and/or glacial till below the surface, and coarse fluvial deposits near the surface. It’s finalized with a frosting of 4 to 12 inches of organic marine-rich top soil.
What does that mean?
Historically, it means it is great for growing Douglas fir, western red cedar, alder, maple and grand fir trees, supported with an abundance of wild berries like leg-tearing blackberry vines.
However, with rich peat soils and great water retention during early season, and drainage in late, it creates amazing growing areas in the lower lying areas in the Comox Valley, especially for vegetables, fruit, hay crops, and even malt-grade barley.
So what the hell does that have to do with Grapes? Even more, what does it have to do with grapes from a “Noble variety” vs. those that have been breed to grow in our climate?
For lack of a better term, our little property sits at the tip of an iceberg, just 925 meters from the Salish Sea, where the Powell River ferry lands. The deep harbour was created, in part, by a glacier. The bonus, is that the historic event deposited a more than average amount of till, sand, and rocks on this small area, which is now above the sea some 120 meters.
Poor soil for the general farming activities in the Valley, our 25 acres does not grow blueberries, cranberries, or corn, very well at all.
The plus side - great drainage, mineral contact, and sloping land towards the sea provide in part, a small piece of rare land in the Valley that can sustain noble variety grapes - Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Chardonnay, and Auxerrois.
Not without its difficulties, with great drainage comes stripping of nutrients. Pedicle testing and soil sampling is a must. With the slow road of composting, and adding that back to the soil, diligence and patience will be a virtue.
The terroir itself benefits from so much more. This small micro climate inside a micro climate generally boasts 3.6 degree Celsius higher temps than the recorded temperature.
Our viticulturist, Theo Siemens, has spent considerable time working with Pedro Perra, a Chilean wine terroir expert, and Dr. Scott Smith, from the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre. Theo is applying his experience and knowledge to the 40 Knots terroir, and has a great go-forward ethical plan for us to work with.
Here are some of Theo’s thoughts and recommendations.
“Comox Valley soil types typically fall into the Tsolum Soil profile with a Gleyed Humo Ferric Podzol subtype. Factors that most influence viticulture practices on these soil types are:
5) Sedimentary rock profiles
6) Rich in iron oxidized soils
7) Presence of granite rock brought from coastal mountains by glaciation
8) Soil texture (loamy, sandy, till)
40 Knots soils, rich in iron and aluminum, are oxidized by acids and water, while sub soils are seasonally saturated (liquefied) by the high water table. The results are leached soils rich in iron and aluminum, with low PH. Historic fertilizing practices suggest that the disconcerting anemic soil-sample results are due to leaching and not under-fertilizing. In other words, while fertilizers have been applied by the previous owner (last application in 2012), they are being consumed by plants and/or being washed away by rain.
There lies the crux of your challenge.
It is my strong belief that compost application is the solution for the long term health of the vineyard. As compost breaks down slowly (25% first year, 50% second year and 25% third year), it is the perfect and almost complete time-release fertilizer. Compost, depending on composition, tends to be more alkaline, therefore balancing the soil PH as well. While composts tend to be low in nitrogen, this can be adjusted easily by way of cover cropping, which is already being completed with white clover, or by applying organic fertilizers.”
Focusing on ethical and sustainable farming practices, composting, mulching, adequate cover crops, specific irrigation regime (going towards little to none), we are, in Theo’s words, “creating an evolution in our vineyard, not a revolution.”
Is that it, all done?
Not even close.
Knowing what you have for earth is the beginning. Establishing a realistic plan to be sustainable is next. Being willing to commit to a very long term ethical and sustainable farming model is going to be the hardest decision, or the easiest.
For me, it’s easy.
It is how I grew up farming. As a kid, I saw the benefits in the land and the product.
How could I not see it now?