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Organic, sustainable vineyard management practices result in healthy grape vines leading to the purest expression of the grape and ultimately delicious wine in your glass.

Fall in our Napa Vineyard

Sustainability in the vineyard in late fall

Harvest is done and grapes are pressed and fermenting for O’Connell Family Wines. The O’Connell Family Vineyard estate vines are turning fall colors. The vineyard is ready to rest. But now is the time to sow the seed down each row to enrich biodiversity and regenerate the soil in our vineyard for next year’s harvest.

The cover crop is a key element in our sustainable organic farming practice to biologically suppress weeds, improve soil characteristics, naturally add nitrogen, attract beneficial insects to help control pests, reduce fungal disease (a biofumigant) and reduce soil erosion and future need for irrigation. O’Connell Family Vineyard sustainable and organic vineyard management practices avoid use of toxic herbicides. A cover crop vineyard provides a big benefit for a little seed!

The first step is to plant uncoated seed that is free of GMO. Many don’t realize that GMO seeds incorporate pesticides. Cover crops we plant include the brilliant yellow mustard that is such a welcome sight after dreary gray winter days. We like to include nutrient rich vetch, barley and natural wildflower flowers of California poppy and orange blooming calendula. The crop we select is carefully chosen to meet what O’Connell Family Vineyard needs for the upcoming season.

Sustainable farming practices in late winter

February and March is the time to mow the cover crop because it can trap the frost of overnight low Napa Valley temperatures and damage tender new buds about to emerge from winter dormant grape vine canes. The long anticipated moment of budbreak is imminent early April at the O’Connell Family Vineyard and our neighboring vineyards in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. Not good to lose a percentage of your crop before the grapes enter their growing season!




Tractor mowing cover cropsOur vine rows at O’Connell Family Vineyard are closely spaced in order to slightly stress the vines, a natural agricultural approach to maximizing flavor concentration. Cutting the cover crop and incorporating it, as well as canes pruned in January, into the soil is a slow process as the tractor driver needs to navigate the equipment to avoid hitting the vines and the trellis system. We make three passes each with specialized equipment: one mow the cover crop with cutting blades, one to carefully remove weeds and cover crop under the vine row, one to till the soil incorporating the freshly cut cover crop and pruned canes, and one to smooth the soil so workers can safely tend to the vines the rest of the year.



Sheep grazing is a sustainable agricultural practice to manage the vineyard floor. A flock of sheep are “hired” to “mow” down the cover crop and incorporate the nutrients and natural fertilizer into the soil, wholistically integrating crop and farm animals. The army of sheep are delivered by truck and guided into their section enclosed in a portable fence and guarded by a dog against predators. The flock can eliminate the need for toxic herbicides. They can work in vineyards rain or shine, usually consuming nutrient rich organic greens from the cover crop in 24 to 48 hours. Frost damage prevented, vineyard fertilized, carbon footprint reduced, and healthy sheep. Plus the natural cycle of life goes on with newly born baby lambs frolicking among the vines READ MORE HERE. All is well!

A tractor is still needed to till (some vineyard managers believe in no till practices) and smooth the ground. At O’Connell Family Vineyard, we till alternate rows every year, with all rows tilled as dictated by vineyard requirements. We respect the soil microbes under the surface as they play a major role in transmitting nutrients to the root structure of the vine, maintaining excellence in wine quality of O’Connell Family Wines- our Gabrielle Collection Cabernet Sauvignons and the  O’Connell Family OCFV estate Cabernet Sauvignons.

The O’Connell Family Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley practices sustainable and organic farming. We believe that organic farming best translates the pure flavors from the soil to the grape and ultimately to the O’Connell Family Wines you enjoy in your glass. In the near future, we will introduce farm animals into our organic agricultural program. Integrating crop and farm animals will allow us to further reduce our carbon footprint and add nutrients to enrich our compost and soil- stay tuned.