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Mark Neal Celebrates 40 Years of Organic Grape Growing

by Rachel Witte |

One of the exciting things about CCOF’s 50th birthday is that many of our long-time members are celebrating milestone birthdays, too! One of those members is Mark Neal, from Neal Family Vineyards. Next year will mark 40 years of Mark farming organic grapes at the prestigious Martha’s Vineyard in Napa, California. 

Mark has certainly built an organic legacy in Napa over the last 40 years. Since 1984, he’s converted more than 1,000 acres of Napa’s vineyards to organic production. Mark is known in the wine industry for his expertise in organic and biodynamic vineyard management, both for his own winery Neal Family Vineyards, as well as an impressive rolodex of famous, “big name” wineries in Napa Valley.

Fueling decades of commitment to organic farming is Mark’s belief in respecting the land, the people and animals that live on it, and the people who work it. “I’ve dedicated my life to being an organic and biodynamic grower because I believe in it. It’s just the right thing to do for Mother Earth,” Mark explains. 

After all these years, Mark’s work has accumulated to what Deborah Parker Wong, national co-editor of the Slow Wine Guide, says is a “watershed moment” for “slow wineries” becoming certified organic. “We’ve been keeping a very close eye on the sustainable choices wineries are making and organic is the certification with the most agency in the ecosystem of Slow Wine,” Parker Wong explains. The Slow Wine Guide, part of Slow Food USA, highlights the best wineries in each state that grow and produce wine that is, as they say, “good, clean, and fair.” Neal Family Vineyards were, of course, included among the pages with other CCOF members and prestigious wineries. 

Organic wine must be made from grapes grown without synthetic pesticides and herbicides. Then, the wine must be made without dozens of additives allowed in conventional winemaking. Wines can also be “made with organic grapes,” which allows for certain additives (including sulfites) to be added to organic grapes in the winemaking process. Both wines involve a complex management of creative farming practices and winemaking expertise. 

“Driven by vineyard managers wanting to do the right thing for Mother Earth, CCOF has seen an increase in certified organic wine grape acreage in the last 12 months,” says CCOF Senior Farm Certification Specialist Drake Bialecki. “In order to transition to organic, vineyard managers dedicate themselves to using cover crops, biochar/compost, and sheep for controlled grazing to enrich soil fertility under the vines. Integrated pest management strategies are also being used, such as employing ladybugs to control leaf hoppers and installing owl boxes/raptor perches to control rodents. It is great to see so many vineyard managers connecting the dots between agriculture and ecology in order to achieve organic certification and address environmental stewardship goals.”

Join us in raising a glass of (organic!) wine to Mark Neal and his family for their contributions to organic. Cheers!