Karl Hambsch is the owner of the only certified organic winery in Virginia - Loving Cup Vineyards & Winery, outside of Charlottesville - and one of less than a handful of organic wineries on the entire East Coast of the US.
Karl has been able to grow wine organically in Virginia because of a lot of hard, and careful, work. He has trialed over 50 varieties of grapes over the past dozen years to find varieties that have the characteristics and natural disease resistance to withstand the onslaught of fungi, mildews, pests and infections that are rampant in the hot, humid growing season of the Mid-Atlantic region.
Because of his commitment to organic viticulture, Karl has had to basically replicate the process of natural selection in the Loving Cup vineyard for delicious grapes that are disease and pest resistant. This is a process that would normally take millennia, and resulted in the dominant European (Vitis vinifera) varieties we know today. At Loving Cup, Karl continues this process to find the most expressive grapes best adapted to his terroir, a process that will result in the grapes that future generations will come to know and love.
Karl's approach to growing wine is not for the faint-hearted, but it provides hope and an amazing example of the potential viability of organic viticulture everywhere. If he can do it in Virginia, then winegrowers in California have no excuse not to practice organic viticulture.
In this in-depth interview, Karl explains his specific methods of grape variety selection for organic cultivation, his four-pronged approach to making organic viticulture work - ideas that could and should translate to any grape-growing region in the world. We also discuss the immense challenges of growing grapes in Virginia, the fascinating possibilities that arise from growing hybrid varieties, PIWI grapes, the realities of having both your vineyards and your winery organically certified, and much more.