Every day is Earth Day
for people who practice and not just preach
Benziger Winery in Glen Ellen always comes to mind as a shining and thriving example of working in harmony with nature, judiciously implementing Rudolph Steiner’s biodynamic practices to great benefit. From the first sight of the vineyards, teaming with birds and butterflies, and the sheep grazing the cover crop in spring, you can feel the heartbeat of a healthy ecosystem. And the wines are amazing, especially the Estate tier, which includes Tribute, Joaquin’s Inferno and Oonapais, all biodynamically farmed. An amazing place to celebrate Earth Day! Chris Benziger will be leading Earth Day hikes at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on April 22. Reservations are required.
Winemaker and general manager of Bouchaine Vineyards since 2015, Chris Kajani spearheaded Bouchaine’s involvement in Napa Green, achieving certification in 2018. She introduced composting to halt erosion and boost soil nutrients, falconry and beneficial insects for pest management, and sheep for weed control, minimizing tractor usage and soil compaction. The vineyard employs Cisco Industrial sensors to monitor water usage. “As the longest continuously family-owned winery in Carneros, we are committed to preserving this land for generations,” says Kajani. “We are always looking towards the future to find new ways to be sustainable: sustainable farming allows for healthy vines which make delicious wines!” Try their Pinot Noirs.
Kathleen Inman of Inman Family Wines in Sonoma practices “eco-ethics” at every level, from driving an EV (Mustang MachE) to using sleek countertops made from recycled glass, concrete and sequestered fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal. “I rebuilt the old barn that was originally constructed in 1883 and then redone in 1943, reusing all the foundation materials and every bit of the old redwood. These materials have been repurposed three times now!” She installed a state-of-the-art solar system (West Coast Solar) on the barn roof and was the first to have an electric car charging station (Chargepoint) in Sonoma County in 2007. “We were so excited to see the first Prius use it! Our two charging stations are entirely solar powered, and people use them every day. It’s like filling up on sunshine!” She also nourishes her 10.5-acre organic Olivet Grange Vineyard with food scrap compost from Recology. “We never till our cover crop, and I apply compost tea through the drip irrigation lines according to lunar cycles, at bud break, bloom, fruit set and in early June. Otherwise, we do not irrigate.” Her Endless Crush Rosé is the perfect spring beauty.
In 2009, Anaba Wines became the first in Northern California to install a 45-foot Skystream wind turbine on the Carneros property, allowing the anabatic winds from San Pablo Bay and the Pacific Ocean to provide power. They’ve since added solar and are now producing more energy than they consume.
Winemaker and General Manager Joe Nielsen of Ram’s Gate Winery, who joined the Carneros estate in 2018, immediately set the vineyards on a path to organic farming. Certification is expected in 2023. He’s ultimately reduced water usage by 33%, and employs a team of sheep, owls and hawks for natural weed and pest control. Joe believes that delicious wines can only come from a thoughtfully tended vineyard and is constantly researching and experimenting with new techniques to improve the health and wellness of the vines.
Helping vineyards achieve optimum soil health naturally, is the mission of AgVerra, (Santa Rosa). Owner Michah Bernstein provides foliars and amendments like humic acid and seaweed fertilizers to improve soil quality and help vines better uptake water and nutrients. “We provide a methodology of soil and crop nutrients that creates long term sustainability for soil and plants,” says Bernstein, whose company, Zeltec Biologicals, creates the products. “Healthier plants and more robust grapes make better wine. We have been able to reduce shrivel during hangtime. Growers cut water to let sugars build, and we can increase brix without damaging plant health, while maintaining plant vitality.”
Up in the Anderson Valley, Ferrington Vineyard, owned by Kurt Shoeneman since 1996, produces grapes for many labels, including Williams Seylem, Handley Cellars and Fathers+Daughters. His daughter, Sarah, is married to Guy Pacuar, and their daughter, Ella, inspired the generational label. Norman Kobler is the vineyard manager, and his family established Lazy Creek (now Twomey). Sheep graze weeds in the vineyard while the vines are dormant, and are taken out when buds begin to swell. Says Kobler, who runs the sheep, “Benefits are: you can save on mowing, the vineyard gets fertilized, and you get fresh lamb meat. The downsides are they are hard on the trellis and drip hose.” Nothing about farming is easy, otherwise, more people would do it.
To make organic farming greener, easier and more cost-effective, Monarch Tractor, initially kicked off by Carlo Mondavi, offers small EV machines with 14+ hours of run-time. You can eliminate the equivalent of 14 on-road vehicles by swapping a diesel equivalent for a MK-V tractor. Wente in Livermore was the first vineyard to deploy them.
In the Sanel Valley of Hopland in Mendocino County, Ettore Wines brings people together from several different countries and cultures to create their shared vision through organic farming of a vineyard that has been Certified Organic since 2005. It was planted by the Milone family. Winemaker Sofia Rivier tells us, “We use all organic inputs, previously approved by CCOF at the vineyard and winery. The cover crops used are an organic mix of bell beans, Dundale Peas, Cayuse Oats and Excede Wheat.”
As a Member of 1% for the Planet, Wentworth Vineyard and Ranch, in the extreme coastal Mendocino Ridge AVA near Elk, and one of the Westernmost vineyards in the US, farms organically and donates a portion of wine sales to support organizations like the Save the Redwoods League, Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association, Save the Yellowstone Grizzly, and the Grand Teton National Park Foundation. Says farmer Mark Wentworth, who also owns the famed Nash Mill Vineyard in Anderson Valley, now organically farmed, “5% of our April sales will be donated to the Save the Redwoods League, in addition to a several thousand dollar gift in support of their work.”
Winemaker Ross Reedy of VML in the Dry Creek Valley, seeks vineyards that contain magic: something in the air, the wind and the soil that makes it a perfect lens for a wine that becomes the ultimate snapshot of terroir. Vineyards like Ritchie, Starscape and Mes Filles. If you look closely at the label, the words, “Wines guided by the sun, the moon and the stars,” are an homage to the organic garden and vineyards at the VML tasting room, a brand established by Paul Dolan, who sparked Fetzer’s move to organic production over two decades ago. The abundance of life is reflected in the wines, translating the Latin beneath – Vinum Magica Laetitia – which means wine, magic and joy.
Third-generation Napa Valley farmer Tom Gamble of Gamble Family Vineyards is first and foremost a steward of the land. Having already secured Napa Green status and championing the Fish Friendly Farming Initiative and Napa Valley River Restoration Project, both of which he helped establish, Gamble Family Vineyards is currently in the process of securing a Regenerative Organic Farming Certification. His motivation? “A deep and abiding affection for the land upon which I was born, live, and which provides for me. By giving back to the land, I am paying it forward. ‘It’ being a sustainable model that will benefit not only the land, but the humans – both family and beyond – who will come after us.”
With the earth in such crisis, what gives Gamble hope? “All of the people I have met around the world who are taking proactive steps to make a difference. Behind the loud headlines and demonstrations, there is more going on than most are aware. People around the world are practicing ‘think globally, act locally,’ to improve their communities. I’m inspired by a technologically connected global community with a shared mission taking positive small steps in the right direction.”