Jan. 12, 2023

Sheep, Ducks, Chickens, & More w/ Dan Fishman, Donum Estate

Sheep, Ducks, Chickens, & More w/ Dan Fishman, Donum Estate

Donum Estate is serious about sustainability, investing heavily in integrated pest management and biodiversity.

Known for its world-class art collection and Pinot Noirs, Donum Estate is also serious about sustainability, investing heavily in integrated pest management and biodiversity. Dan Fishman, the winemaker, discusses the benefits and tradeoffs of moving to organic and regenerative farming with an IPM framework. From sheep, ducks, and chickens to mealybug destroyers, it’s creating a diverse ecosystem that is improving the soil, vines, and wines for Donum.  


Detailed Show Notes: 

Dan’s background - Donum winemaker since 2012, took over farming in 2019


  • Founded in 2001 in Carneros to create the ultimate Pinot Noir
  • Added Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast vineyards
  • CCOF (organic) and pursuing ROC regenerative certification

Integrated pest management (“IPM”) is a critical 1st step for sustainability; it changes philosophy from exploiting resources to maximize cash crops (conventional) to looking at the system holistically and thinking about the entire ecosystem (IPM)

  • Not about eliminating pests but managing them and creating resilience in the ecosystem

Examples of IPM

  • Sheep for weeding in winter - less tractor passes & fuel use, brings compost back to the vineyard, uses contract grazer w/ 500 sheep/herd, need sheep out before bud break, or they will eat green shoots
  • Compost teas (biologically active sprays) - when used on the canopy, introduce microbes that compete w/ others like mildew
  • Chickens & ducks eat ground insects

Committed to organics in 2019

  • Stopped using herbicides, which kill weeds but also other fungi in soil; stopping created living soils, insect life returned right away
  • Without synthetic nitrogen, we need to get the nitrogen cycle back (e.g., sheep compost helps)

Benefits of IPM

  • Reduced vigor reduced the need to crop thin and hedge, which was done before to get to target yields, therefore no reduction in overall crop yields
  • Improved grape chemistry - 7-8 years ago harvested at 25+ Brix to get phenolic ripeness with 3.7-3.8 pH and 4-5 g/L TA; 2022 - 23-23.5 Brix, 3.5 pH, 5.6-6+ g/L TA -> less work needed in winery
  • Can ferment with native yeasts (not killed by sprays)
  • Increased vineyard lifespan - vines can live 50-60 years vs. 25-30 typically in Sonoma for Pinot Noir
  • Reduced cost of synthetic fertilizers

Costs of IPM

  • Some upfront investment, e.g., Clemens weed knife for under-vine weed management instead of spraying Roundup
  • More monitoring of vineyard, e.g., people monitoring for mealy bugs, which are then treated with an organic essential oil
  • Estimates ~5-7% more expensive vs. conventional farming

The highest impact process was getting rid of herbicides

Other elements used

  • Root Applied Sciences - monitoring stations that check for mildew spores reduce organic sprays by 20%, kill less yeast in the vineyard
  • VineView aerial mapping to identify potential problems
  • Water probes to monitor vine stress to determine irrigation needs


  • Cover crops, every 6th row is a native wildflower encouraging native insects
  • Introduce predators - e.g., wasps & mealybug destroyers to reduce mealy bugs
  • Encourage raptors with owl boxes and raptor perches to help control moles & gophers

Next for IPM and biodiversity at Donum - more chickens & ducks, may own a small flock of sheep, and set up a truffle grove


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