Meet the animals and people behind grazing-based viticulture at Antiquum Farm

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Antiquum Farm near Junction City in southern Oregon’s Willamette Valley is reminiscent of a place from a storybook. The Farm Cottage tasting room echoes the thatched roofs of rural Ireland. Kune Kune pigs lounging by the edge of the vineyard escape a sense of contented contentment. Maremmas Cattle Guard Dogs exhibit a confident sense of quiet vigilance. Goats and sheep look up from a snack to watch a car go by.

It’s easy to forget that it’s not for the sake of appearance, that Antiquum is a working farm and vineyard, producing pinot gris and pinot noir as well as grazed geese and lamb. Pasture-raised quail and chicken eggs, as well as local honey. Pigs are new to the organic vineyard blend, and they’re cold, soothing to the eye. “They are stress relieving,” says Steven Hagen, owner of Antiquum Farm.

It’s true that the place has a low-tech, cottagecore vibe, but this farm is actually full of life. Hagen, like many low-intervention winemakers, does not use chemicals and is guided by the concepts of biodynamic agriculture, particularly the principle of a closed agricultural ecosystem. “I am fascinated by the terroir and what makes this place vibrate,” says Hagen. “How do you find the place and the time to articulate through wine? ”

Since 2010, his farm has been operating “smoothly” as a closed ecosystem, although the process started around 2004. One of his main problems at the start: fertilizers. The compost generated on the farm for a 20-acre vineyard would amount to what Hagen describes as a “massive” pile. But bringing it in from elsewhere did not correspond to the premise of a truly self-sufficient environment.

“Outdoor fertilizers, in the macro sense, are the same materials that everyone uses,” Hagen explains, noting that sources of organic compost are relatively few and often require high freight costs to get the materials to at the farm. In addition, it is a homogenized product which does not reflect the nature of the vineyards or individual plots.

His ah-ha moment was realizing that he could get rid of the compost completely if the right amount of organic matter could be generated right in the field. Hagen’s grazing-based method of viticulture (a term he himself coined) relies on animals, not external inputs.

Antiquum Farm animals perform a strategic rotation, grazing on the “aboveground biomass” of the native cover which is then redistributed to the soil, carried by the microorganisms that inhabit it. The result is a “sustained buzz” within a healthy microbial population. “Wines just get better, more interesting,” says Hagen. “It is a true and beautiful expression of the house.”

Meanwhile, the animals have other jobs. Pest mitigation occurs under their watch: sheep and pigs expose insects through which geese and chickens find their way. Hagen calls them “the remediation team” which can be deployed to certain locations where they gobble up pests and scrape weeds. “Each animal brings another layer of complexity,” he says. “The more we have, the more resilient and lively this place will be. “

Goats and pigs also make good fire suppressants. Grazers nibble and trample low forest vegetation, mowing their way through fuel sources that can ignite quickly in a fire. As they spin through the forest, they give off an understory of non-native species that local wildlife cannot use in their food or habitat. Hagen says that in two weeks the goat and pig team cleared three acres and they will work there until the reserves are depleted. Maybe they’ll take the show on the road after that, helping the neighborhood.

Since the animals at Antiquum Farm are bred or selected specifically for this space, they are able to feed themselves by grazing, eliminating the need to store food, which could also be considered a source of fire. “It took almost twenty years to get the best sheep,” says Hagen. “Specifically selected to thrive with our resources. “

Guardian dogs – Opal and Dewey along with some of their puppies, born in 2020 – are the “glue that holds grazing-based viticulture together,” says Stephen, “keeping everything from hawks and eagles to black bears and mountain lions ”, which can weigh up to 250 pounds. Before the dogs arrived, the farm lost 38 sheep – since then only one sheep and one goat.

Andrew Bandy-Smith, winemaker at Antiquum Farm, notes that the vineyard’s regenerative agricultural practices provide stability over the season. “Slow growth allows for a balanced nutrient load, not only for health, but also for flavor profile,” explains Bandy-Smith. “A grape that is denser in nutrients equals a more complex grape. “

Tastings at Antiquum Farm take place in the Farm Cottage and are private experiences, by reservation only. Hagen promises it will be an immersive experience, with a primary person from the family or the farm. “When people visit us, they blend in with everyday life and the farm,” says Bandy-Smith.


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