Earth Day was born out of a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara. It has grown to include a multitude of events, happenings and points of awareness as we consider what effect we humans are having on our planet. And Earth Day has not been lost on the wine industry.
Wine is, frankly, agriculture, which uses land, water, pesticides, labor, transportation and more. But old-school farming, before the rise of the industrial age, is still being widely used – that is to say, treating your land as a valuable commodity and nurturing it. Many wineries across the globe farm with these practices in mind, including sustainable, organic and biodynamic iterations of farming. Consider these few but representative examples of how the wine industry is facilitating change.
Pepper Bridge Winery Runs on Solar
In Walla Walla, Washington, Pepper Bridge Winery recently completed a solar installation, making it the largest photovoltaic in Walla Walla County. The 100-kilowatt installation will have an annual production of over 100,000 kilowatt-hours and is projected to provide 70 percent of the winery’s energy needs.
“We are always looking for ways our winery can lessen its impact on the environment,” says winemaker Jean-François Pellet. “Whether it’s using earth friendly practices in the vineyard or using the sun’s rays to create energy, we are mindful of reducing our carbon footprint.”
Brick House Wines Is Certified Organic
South in Oregon, Brick House Wines Owner Doug Tunnell, who served as foreign correspondent for CBS for 17 years, became certified organic for his vineyard in 1990, though he eventually included biodynamic certification as well. “Organic farming liberated our land from dependence on chemical agriculture,” Tunnell says.
Chappellet Vineyard Is Organic and 100 Percent Solar
In Napa, Chappellet Vineyard began in the early 1980s (long before the term “sustainable” was even used), to plant cover crops for soil conservation and erosion prevention. In 2012, their 102-acre vineyard earned its organic certification from the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF).
Chappellet has a 20,000-square-foot solar photovoltaic system that generates 100 percent of the winery’s energy needs. They also installed a state-of-the-art water processing system that allows the winery to return nearly 100 percent of the processed water (about one million gallons each year) to the vineyard for irrigation. Similarly, Spottswoode Winery in St. Helena has been a pioneering winery with their decision to begin farming 100 percent organically before it was hip to do so. In 1985 they started the organic process and in 1992 Spottswoode became only the second estate vineyard in Napa Valley to earn CCOF certification.
Paso Robles Wineries Are Reducing the Need for Drilling Off the Coast
On California’s Central Coast in Paso Robles, Castoro Cellars’ solar project covers three acres and produces 625-kilowatt hours. They are aiming to make the winery operable on 100 percent solar power. Also in Paso Robles J. Lohr Winery has long had a commitment to sustainable farming practices, which includes water conservation, a recycling program on site and a state-of-the-art solar tracking system covering a three acres.
“With numerous sunny days, Paso Robles isn’t just ideal for producing Bordeaux and Rhône-style wines,” Executive Vice President Steve Lohr tells me. “It’s perfect for producing clean, renewable energy. We are working to protect the very climate that nurtures our grapes, while contributing to efforts that reduce the need for drilling off our spectacular coast.”
Even the small Alta Colina Winery has installed a Tesla charging station. And biodynamic vineyard AmByth Estates has gone further. “We knew we didn’t want to be ‘regular’ farmers,” owner Phillip Hart told me when I visited. “We live in our land, the vineyard surrounds us. There was no way we were going to be spraying something on the vines our children shouldn’t be breathing.”
Presqu’ile Vineyard Meets the Gold Standard for Sustainability
South in Santa Barbara Presqu’ile is a family-run winery and their 73-acre Presqu’ile Vineyard is Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certified. Rigorous, non-negotiable and measured by an independent third-party auditor, SIP is widely considered the gold standard for sustainability certification. Unlike organic certification, which looks exclusively at chemical usage, SIP also audits social responsibility, water conservation, energy efficiency and clean water. Within the vineyard, they have planted nitrogen-fixing and flowering cover crops such as triticale, vetch and pea. Naturally occurring clover is encouraged and wildflowers are planted to attract beneficial insect predators. They preserved critical habitats of coyotes, foxes, bobcats, owls, bats, red-tailed hawks, falcons and other natural predators including lacewings, beetles, ladybugs and spider-mites that feed on aphids and mites.
Mendocino Has the Highest Percentage of Organic & Biodynamic Vineyards
Mendocino, north of Sonoma is best known for the highest percentage of organic and biodynamic vineyards anywhere in California. There are just under 90 wineries here and solar panels are present in vineyards, on winery buildings and by the side of the road. To facilitate biodynamic farming, sheep graze the weeds between grapevine rows and pesticides are not allowed. Even the plastic green ties that most of us use in our gardens to tie tomato plants to stakes are not allowed. In its place is a natural tying method, pliable willow tree stalks – as they will eventually return to the earth from whence they came.
Also in Mendocino, Goldeneye’s 200 acres of estate vineyards earned sustainable certification. And they built a state-of-the-art winery, the second winery in California to earn LEED Gold environmental certification. Goldeneye is also a Certified Fish Friendly Farmer and has certified 160 acres of non-vineyard land at their Anderson Valley property as Forest Stewardship Council, which obliges sustainable management of their second-growth redwood forest into perpetuity.
El Dorado County Is Turning to Habitat-Sensitive Farming
In the Sierra Foothills, El Dorado County has its share of farmers who are turning to habitat-sensitive farming and biodynamics like Narrow Gate Vineyards.
“Traditional farming takes from the soil and gives nothing back. Organic takes from the soil and replaces what it took out. Biodynamics takes from the soil and then gives back more than it took out,” owner Frank Hildebrand told me while standing in front of his 40-ton compost/manure pile.
A Toast to Earth Day
The point is that there are many wineries who farm organically, and many who farm this way without being certified (certification is a time-consuming and expensive regulatory process if you desire an organic label on your wine bottle). So celebrate Earth Day and know that, while the wine you’re drinking isn’t saving the planet, it’s not harming it, either. For info on a host of wine activities in California visit: http://www.discovercaliforniawines.com/d2e/