Seasons of Sustainability

Rebecca Chapa |
Beer, Wine, and Spirits

For many vintners in California wine country, eco-friendly farming practices are as sure as the changing seasons. And in Napa Valley, springtime brings greenery back to the land, and sustainable viticulture to the forefront.


When spring comes to Napa Valley, the mustard plants start to bloom, brightening the frequent rainy days with swaths of yellow. The rain is part of the season, and part of life here. And one special benefit of California's Mediterranean clime is how the rainy springtime gives way to hot, dry summer days perfect for growing grapes. Vintners know that these spring showers will help fuel the vines for the hard work they will be doing later.


Driving through wine country, you may notice that the naked vines are shadowed by large expanses of green cover crops growing in between the rows. These cover crops—such as the fields of mustard and legumes like peas, vetch, and clover—grow wildly, taking advantage of the spring rains. They prevent erosion in the vineyards, draw water from the soil, and when they die naturally or are tilled into the ground, they provide nutrients for the vines. Some winery chefs even utilize some of the edible flowers and shoots when creating spring menus.


Spring is all about growth of the vine's shoots and leaves, with the warming temperatures cueing the delicate green tendrils to emerge into buds. Each flower, if not blown away or washed out by rain, will become a grape, and eventually contribute its juice to wine.


But it's not just the vineyards that are turning green this time of year—as a whole, many vintners are making efforts at greener, more eco-friendly farming practices. California's unique climate allows minimal use of pesticides and fungicides during the growing season, and many vintners take pains to avoid them altogether. At Wente Family Estates, Karl Wente was a pioneer in working with essential oils such as pepper and cinnamon to control pests. Etude Winery has identified four wetlands that are protected within their vineyards, and have placed a focus on fish-friendly farming to restore fish habitats. Robert Mondavi Winery uses composted grape pomace to increase the fertility of their soils. Many wineries evaluate their own footprint and eco-friendliness by working towards certifications from programs like California Certified Organic Farmer (CCOF) or organic viticulture programs like the Napa Green Certified Land program.


For many wineries, this green initiative extends beyond the vineyard. Trinchero Napa Valley recycles 20 tons of office paper, 850 tons of cardboard, and 100 tons of plastic each year. Napa Green Certified Land Program's companion program, Napa Green Certified Winery, has recognized Robert Mondavi for its attention to items like recycling, waste water usage, and energy management. Wente Vineyards in Livermore is another example, working to recycle used cooking oil from their restaurant into biodiesel fuel. They hope to eventually convert all their vineyard vehicles to be powered by biodiesel.


As the seasons change and the signs of spring start to take shape in the Napa Valley, take note of the how the vineyards, wineries, and restaurants are also taking steps to maintain this greenery for generations to come.