Category Archives: Eco Initiatives

What we can contribute making the environment better

Managing Vineyard Development In Sonoma County

Last night I attended a public hearing at the Kenwood Fire Station, organized by the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, presenting a draft ordinance governing vineyard (and orchard) development involving tree removal. The meeting was surprisingly cordial, and well-managed by Commissioner Tony Linegar. I’m not planning to do any in-depth reportage here, but want to offer a personal perspective—a perspective I intend to transmit to the Ag Commission and the Board of Supervisors before the close of public comment tomorrow, April 13th.

Briefly, back in the late 1990s a few land owners planning to develop vineyards did some very bad things Continue reading

Biochar & Yeast Nutrition

 wine yeast cellsI love Twitter. For example, biochar would not be on my radar today if I was not following @RandallGrahm on the platform. I remember reading an article on terra preta some time ago (might have been this article in National Geographic) but it is Randall’s sustained expression of enthusiasm for biochar as a vineyard amendment that has me thinking of it more specifically.

There is plenty of information on biochar available online to the interested reader. Briefly, biochar is a carbonized residue produced by pyrolysis of cellulosic biomass (such as crop residues–both field residues, and processing residues such as nut shells, fruit pits, etc.–as well as yard, food and forestry wastes, and animal manures) under conditions of limited oxygen. The products of pyrolysis are bio-oil, syngas and biochar. The first two products are combustible substitutes for petroleum-derived fuels. Biochar residue can be used to improve acidic and agriculturally-depleted soils. The feedstocks used greatly affect the utility and suitability of the derived biochar product for building or rebuilding any particular soil.

What got my attention was Randall’s tweet that application of biochar in the vineyard can increase the assimilable nitrogen in grapes. Continue reading

Wine Grapes & Pesticides in Sonoma

The other day I was reading “Lack of Sex Among Grapes Tangles a Family Vine” in the New York Times and came across the line “…a host of pests have caught up with the grape, obliging growers to protect their vines with a deluge of insecticides, fungicides and other powerful chemicals.”

The line was a throwaway, with no supporting evidence. But this is received wisdom, right? Doesn’t everyone know that modern commercial agriculture can’t exist unless growers use an ocean of dangerous environmental toxins?

Well, not at our vineyard. As I have said before, we farm in a manner that “…I would have no fears of my kids running around on site, getting dirty and putting things in their mouths.” Most of the growers I know in this business do as well. So why is the idea that we are drowning our grapes in pesticides so pervasive? Where is the evidence? Continue reading

Capsules — Who Needs ‘Em?

Westwood bottle finishesHistorically, cork sealed bottles needed some sort of covering to prevent the cork being gnawed by rodents or infested with cork-boring bugs. Down through the years the corked end of the wine bottle has been covered and protected, first with wax (slow to apply, hard to remove), lead foils (REALLY bad for landfills and groundwater) and these days with capsules of tin, aluminum, poly-lam or heat-shrink PVC.

In the 21st century it seems to me that if your corks are being chewed on by rodents or weevils you have more to worry about than whether your wine bottles are being stored properly. I’m thinking of doing away with capsules on our wine bottles. To my thinking the capsule has become an affectation, a beauty mark applied with a felt-tip pen. Continue reading

How I Farm Artisanal Grapes

As the 2010 growing season kicks off I have been thinking a lot about the choices we make in our approach to farming, and how our vineyard philosophy fits into the wider gestalt of artisanal wine production.

These days the fad du jour (or the 800-lb. gorilla) is biodynamics. OK I think the movement is probably just so twenty-aughts, but bio-D still gets outsized media attention in relation to its actual penetration in the industry. Like the vast majority of grape growers out there, I don’t do bio-D and I have no plans to.

This is not a reactionary position. First and foremost, I have tasted plenty of wine made from bio-D grapes, and the reality is that they are generally less palate-friendly than wines made from the same grapes farmed more traditionally. I don’t know why this is, but I have tasted it over and over. My wines are already out at the edge of the mainstream consumer palate — I have no deisre to push them further out by adopting bio-D. Continue reading

More On Lighter Wine Bottles

Lighter bottles — it’s becoming my mantra. I made the decision to stop bottling in extra-heavy glass a year ago. I have posted about others picking up on the topic, and now it seems the request for lighter products is being addressed by the glass manufacturers. This morning I saw this article from the May issue of Wines & Vines: “How Light Can You Get?” by Suzane Gannon. Continue reading

Stainless Steel Wine Packaging

Yesterday a friend who is working on a new restaurant project wrote to ask what I thought of serving house wine out of a barrel. In Italy I’ve had some pretty tasty house wines that were served out of some sort of cask. Almost invariably these wines were simple, food-friendly and fresh. I enjoyed them, and have more than once wondered why most of the cheap house wines dispensed here in the US mostly, well, suck by comparison. Why? Continue reading

National Geographic Slams CA Wine – Eco Unfriendly

Yesterday’s mail brought our May 2009 copy of National Geographic. I was surprised to see the Environment page devoted to a wine topic; surpised and a bit dismayed. It seems that our colleague Tyler Colman (Dr. Vino) has had an abstract of his study of the carbon footprint of wine transport published in NGM — kudos!

However, the ominous title “The Toll of Wine” is accompanied by a large and very misleading graphic, with disproportionately HUGE arrows representing the carbon footprint of shipping wine from Napa to NYC, relative to wine from other parts of the globe. Continue reading

Wine’s “Mammoth” Water Footprint?

I have been simmering a couple of weeks over the headline “Wine’s Mammoth Water Footprint: 120 Liters To Make One Glass?” (Lewis Perdue’s Wine Industry Insight March 6th, 2009). In the context of the current ongoing drought here in California, I suggest that characterization of water use by the wine industy as “mammoth” is well, um… unhelpful. The engaged reader should ask: is the characterization even accurate? “Mammoth” by what standard? Compared to what? Or was this just a sensationalist headline — a bit of journalistic bombast? Continue reading

New Vineyard Denizen

Kestrel in the HVS PN, July 18, 2008Today I saw this male American kestrel hunting in the new HVS Pinot block.

Every year since we started the vineyard I have observed two species of hawk, a pair of kites and at least one owl (who I still have not had a good look at – he or she likes to buzz my head from behind at dusk – I feel puff of wind and see a dark flash, is all). But this kestrel is our first falcon, and probably the prettiest bird at the Estate.

I characterize our husbandry of the vineyard as “whole-ecosystem management” rather than “sustainable farming practices”. I like to think that having a diversity of wildlife at the vineyard is an indication that our practices are allowing a complete ecology to flourish. I’m hoping to see a female kestrel soon.