TreeHugger.com has posted an article on growing organic grapes for wine: How Does Organic Winemaking Work? PART I. The title of the piece implies another section to come on organic vinification. Bullet points:
leaf-removal (walking through and pulling off leaves) is the best way to avoid “powdery mildew” over any pesticide you can buy.
several cover crops, [such as] Queen Anne’s Lace, [would attract] predator bugs, all of which eat bugs [attracted to vines], thus keeping these bugs off of the vines.
Wild pigs come down from the hills each fall into the property, but the farmers at Bonterra [bottled by Fetzer] actually welcome them. The pigs completely ignore the grapes but will go row by row and eat all of the weeds, as well as, leave fertilizer all around the vineyard. [E coli issue here?]
A special mixture of cover crops, such as wheat, barley, oats, clover, beans, seeds and other plants are planted between the rows of vines to improve soil qualities, attract pests, and encourage biodiversity on the property. The cover crops help to change the rate at which the vines grow, for example, if a vine is growing too fast and becoming stressed out, the winemakers can add cover crops to slow the plants down. Predators like spider mites and leaf hoppers like fast growing, stressed plants, thus if you can keep plants growing at a slower, sustainable pace, you will also cut down on bugs.
Hmmmm. Why not, then, with hops?
Why couldn't hop farming return to the East Coast, to the Finger Lakes and Cooperstown areas, formerly viable hop-growing regions, or even to here in the mid-Atlantic region?
In the short run, sustainable methods would be less efficient than the current model of mass-produced mono-culture practiced in the Pacific Northwest. But as that industrial model itself becomes inefficient -- infestation, climate disruption, etc.-- might not smaller-scale, sustainable, crop-alternating methods become increasingly economically viable?
The price of hops may have risen enough to make this a possibility.
[UPDATE 2008.08.25: Colorado State University.]