Nicholas & Marshall Miller scale up organic farming
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“You can’t control Mother Nature,” says Nicholas Miller as he leans back on his chair.
“You have to roll with the punches, respect the land, and put in some long-term planning.”
With his family’s farming roots pushing back all the way to 1871, Miller certainly knows a thing or two about agricultural longevity.
Widely regarded as the go-to organic winegrowers in California, Nicholas and his brother Marshall were instrumental in elevating the wines of Paso Robles and have grown fruit for too many heavy-hitting wine labels to note.
“All our family’s vineyards are certified sustainable twice over,” explains Miller, referring to Sustainability In Practice (SIP) and Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSF).
Additionally, 25% of their Paso Robles vineyard is also Certified California Organic Farming (CCOF), making it one of the largest certified organic vineyards on the Central Coast.
“It certainly doesn’t make life easier,” laughs Miller. “It’s a lot more than simply not using pesticides, it’s a whole different way of thinking about maintaining those crops.”
The Miller brothers have extensive experience to draw on and plant native cover crops to cultivate beneficial insects and ecosystems.
Beyond the certifications and methods to increase biodiversity, this historic farming family is also incredibly proactive on the issue of water.
“It’s a big thing,” explains Miller. “We use deficit irrigation, which means we’re monitoring the soils to see exactly what percentage of water is in there and then giving them the bare minimum of what those vines actually need, rather than just irrigating by a timer.”
“We also use drip line irrigation so we only water the root zones. This has brought us down to an acre foot of water, where many other vineyards would be using three times that amount.”
As well as cutting water usage in the vineyards, The Miller brothers have also cut the daily water usage in the wineries by half as well, largely through better organization of sanitation.
Add this to the fact that their wineries are a leader in emission capturing in the U.S, this could be the most efficient winery in the country.
Back in the vineyards, Nicholas and his brother have also found natural ways to stay on top of pests such as ground squirrels and gophers that chew the root zones.
“We actually created owl houses to attract barn owls,” explains Miller. “And it’s estimated that each one will eat around 3,000 rodents every year.” Meanwhile, a falconer is brought in to manage the small birds that spoil crops.
With such a powerful Californian farming lineage to continue, Nicholas sees himself as a steward of the land. “We don’t want to be bookends,” he says. “We’re here for longevity, and we want this thing to keep going on.”
Nick Baines is a food and travel writer based in London.
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