As one of the most distinguished winemaking families in California, the Pisonis are no strangers to awards. Each accolade is a spur to their collective creativity and hard work: they understand winemaking, after all, as part science, part art, and all craft.
They’re particularly honored, however, to be named as the recipients of a 2021 award for Achievement in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) from the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation. Alongside the California Green Medal for Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership the Pisonis earned in 2020, the IPM award recognizes their leadership in developing sustainable pest management practices.
Together, these two awards confirm as they recognize values the family hold dear: that distinguished wine arises from the interplay between earth, air, water, and wind and that caring for their land means respecting and furthering its biodiversity. The IPM award also points to the family’s recognition that part of what allows them to steward their acreage is valuing and communicating with the skilled workers who help farm and maintain it as a habitat.
Distinguished wine arises from the interplay between earth, air, water, and wind . . . and caring for their land means respecting and furthering its biodiversity.
When Gary Pisoni planted pinot noir grapes in the rugged soil of the Santa Lucia Highlands he helped put this spectacular AVA on the map. Since then, the family has routinely earned awards and superlative reviews for their Estate Pinot Noirs and the full gamut of wines crafted under their Lucia label. But taking care of the land “is not just about the grapes,” as Mark Pisoni, the family’s vineyard manager explains. The Pisonis understand the links between the land and the people who work it.
Jazmin Lopez, beekeeper and special project manager, points to the inclusive attitude the Pisonis foster with respect to their work in general–and to integrated pest management in specific. Several of her coworkers have been at Pisoni for over thirty years, she notes. “The success of our IPM program owes a lot to their observations, suggestions, and hard work. They’re some of the best problem-solvers I know.”
Open-mindedness, versatility, flexibility, responsiveness: the Pisonis understand that farming sustainability calls for qualities like these. Adopting what is most successful from organic, conventional, biodynamic, and regenerative farming philosophies, they take a best practices approach to their work. Doing so has encouraged them to develop what Mark calls “a holistic” IPM program, one “that’s always evolving.”
And evolving with nature in mind. IPM “relieves us of having to apply synthetic pesticides,” Jeff, the family’s winemaker, confirms. “This provides for healthier vines and healthier fruit, which is conducive to better fermentations and resulting wine quality.” In addition to avoiding herbicides, the Pisonis increasingly rely upon biological controls to prevent pests. Planting cover crops also augments biodiversity as it reduces water runoff. Owl boxes obviate the need for poisonous baits.
The insectary at the heart of the ranch may be the most beautiful illustration of the ways in which the family relies upon nature to keep pests at bay. Jazmin led the design of the two acre garden. Located in the middle of the vineyard, it attracts “all sorts of beneficial insects, from the bees and butterflies that help pollinate our plants to mealybug destroyers and robber flies and ladybugs that help get rid of harmful pests,” Jazmin notes. Planting the garden with CA natives also works to enhance the biodiversity located on the ranch.
Receiving the 2021 IPM award is a tremendous honor, because it confirms the care for place that has remained crucial to the family across three generations. As their wines express the beautiful landscape around them, their achievements with IPM offer example of their ongoing work to develop creative, safe methods for caring for their vineyards–not just for today but for succeeding generations.