Terra Blanca – A Vineyard’s Salmon-Safe Story

Terra Blanca Winery sits atop an arid, treeless slope known as Red Mountain next to the Yakima River in Central Washington. Owners Keith and ReNae Pilgrim, who purchased the vineyard in 1992, sought a third-party certification that highlighted their environmentally responsible practices.  About 10 years ago, they found their perfect fit in Salmon-Safe.

Although they qualified for organic certification, they were concerned that organic wines often go for a lower price point. In the long run, they envisioned a marketing opportunity for their small eco-region, where over 15 wineries are located. The idea is that area vineyards could take advantage of their small appellation by collectively adopting Salmon-Safe practices, benefiting from the marketing resources offered under the eco-label. Keith appreciates the approach, “Stewardship Partners and Salmon-Safe work with farmers, considering where they are at first, to develop a truly workable plan.”

Salmon-Safe also provides a vehicle for Terra Blanca to support a conservation organization that shares its values. “We can ship a bottle across the country and even if the recipient does not know the Salmon-Safe label specifically, they see the logo and know that it was produced in an environmentally responsible manner.”

Farming consciously to minimize harm is what it all boils down to; “Reducing our use of chemicals is convenient – even if the chemical in question is Ivory Soap – Salmon-Safe makes things easier because it fosters a system that causes minimal disruption. Basically, we try to take care of one problem without creating others.” Keith also strategically places plants that pests prefer next to his grapes. Cutworms, for example, prefer mustard over grape vines. “We provide better choices for these insects. It’s like good parenting.”

With the Yakima River just across the road, Terra Blanca is very mindful of all water run-off by containing it in two ponds on the property. Keith, an avid fly-fisherman, always keeps the health of the river in mind.

In terms of soil and water conservation, rigorous application of compost helps retain water and keep dust down in the dry central Washington climate. “Our goal is to put back in to the soil each year what the previous year’s crop had taken out; nitrogen being the primary nutrient we are most often trying to replace.”

To promote biodiversity, the winery cultivates a natural sagebrush habitat between vineyard blocks. “We have healthy populations of chucker and quail, dens of coyotes and some deer that visit in the winter. We work with the resources we have; like using grape skins to keep dust down on the roads. This creates a warm layer that ducks use throughout the winter.”

While this work can be hard, Salmon-Safe farming practices helps Terra Blanca grow grapes that produce flavorful wines they are striving to create while giving back to the land. If you are interested in learning more about Salmon-Safe vineyards and farming practices, please contact Amelia at ab@stewardshippartners.org. To learn more about Terra Blanca, please contact Jordan Neuhaus at jneuhaus@terrablanca.com.