Down To Earth Month

  • Wrapping up Down to Earth Month

    April 30, 2015 13:21

    Today is the final day of Down to Earth Month. I've covered a few of the ways we remain sustainable. Water…Energy…Community these three all play an integral role as we take on the certification of our vineyards and winery. While all three have been a focus for us it is clear we need to continue our efforts in all categories. We practice what we preach both at the winery and in our homes-much like you do by recycling, cutting down on water use (especially if you are a Californian), and working with the community to find ways of being better at conservation. I’d like to share an example of how things change when we become aware of taking care of our planet. When Adrienne and Joe were in grade school (this is in the early 1990s) the idea of curbside recycling was just beginning to take root. Joe came home one day really fired up about recycling-I realized it had not been a focus for Adrienne’s class just two years earlier. It impressed me at the time because until it had filtered down and become part of our education it wasn’t on our collective radar. Now recycling is second nature both at home and at the winery where we choose ecologically better sources or products, lower our impact on energy use and save water, maintain open spaces and more. I’ve said it before, we are in it for the long-term both for the good of our home and future generations. A toast to Down To Earth Month, may we celebrate it every day.

    Mother Clone Zinfandel, Home Ranch.

    MC Zin single vine


  • Flora & Fauna

    April 24, 2015 13:36

    We own 180 acres between three properties and not every inch is planted to vineyard or has a winery building on it. Our home ranch, which comprises a total of 90 acres, was the first piece of property purchased by my grandparents in 1927. It was a farm as well as a winery with plenty of room to grow vegetables and support the family with barnyard animals and the occasional deer. It sustained my family in those early lean years when my grandmother canned and made most of the food set on their table. I mentioned the family garden we had when I was growing up in an earlier post-and today we have an office garden planted to tomatoes, zucchini and onions. We have two other vineyards, both about a mile west of the winery, with riparian set-backs because they border Dry Creek. It is important to have buffer zones to promote the wildlife population. These supply the local wildlife with enough area to sustain them. Our buffer areas are teeming with turkeys, red tail hawks, the occasional mountain lion, snakes, all sorts of birds from blue jays to sparrows, possums, raccoons and the like. We have an owl box on the East Side Vineyards area and the importance of having Barn owls is to control the rodent population-they think gophers are pretty tasty. We had a family of four last year-hoping for another four or five this year. 87 years of being sustainable means being good stewards of the wildlife too. A toast in my Dino to sustaining the critters.

    Our owl box in the evening light; our Mother Clone Zinfandel with hillside oaks.

    Owl Box in MC Vineyard

    For more about owls in the vineyard click here.

    Riparian HIllside

  • Winery Ops

    April 22, 2015 13:49

    The sustainability efforts were just a whisper in 1986 when we built our Barrel Room. It houses 2000 of our red wine barrels and is not an air-conditioned building. A barrel room does its best work when it is kept between 55-60 degrees. How do we keep our barrel room cool? The large room has vents on the outside walls that automatically open at night to allow the cold air in and close by sun up so the chill stays inside. This has helped us maintain the right atmosphere to age wine as well as keep our carbon footprint even lighter. In fact our cellar, built in the early 1900s, is not air conditioned either. It has some help with the temperature controlled stainless steel tanks but they don’t chill wine tanks down every day –and the building maintains the cellar chill year round. Other ways we strive for sustainability at the winery include simple things like energy efficiency (we changed the lighting in all warehouses to turn on when someone is working in the area), recycling and composting, and water conservation. We like to say we have been sustainable for 87 years and our goal is to maintain it all for future generations. We achieve this goal by looking at the options we have to make not only the vineyard but the winery operations better with each passing year. A toast to Earth Day and keeping our sights on being good stewards of the land.

    For more about Earth Month visit Discover California.

    One vent on the side of our Barrel Room-doing its part to lighten our carbon footprint.

    Barrel Room Vent

  • Concerning Water: A Delicate Balance

    April 13, 2015 13:54

    It is a delicate balance indeed when we, as farmers first before vintners, depend on the weather to bring the right amount of rain at the right time. This doesn’t always happen and there are many examples over the 87 years we have farmed our vineyards when we didn’t have enough, had too much or it rained at an inopportune time i.e. during harvest. And water in California during the fourth year of drought is one hot topic. In our area of Dry Creek Valley we depend on wells and those wells depend on 35-40 inches of average rainfall that fills the underground caches as well as keeps the soil drenched. The last four years have been challenges with one half or less of the average amount and surprisingly the harvests from 2012-2014 have been abundant. We’ll see how this vintage goes-it isn’t over until we have picked our last grapes. But I digress. Being sustainable means having a plan for water. Over the years we have shifted from dry farming to overhead irrigation to a drip system which delivers a regulated flow of water when needed. Now during these dry years the vines will show some stress which means the canopy as well as the developing fruit crop will be affected. Before that happens the vineyard manager watches and decides when to apply water. Remember we have 100+ acres of vineyard so it is a challenge to say least that each and every vine is tended to properly. The great part of drip irrigation is it allows control-we get to decide how to efficiently deliver the right amount to keep fruit quality at optimum levels. Most growers use some form of irrigation and the sustainable focus is to understand the delicate balance of such a limited natural resource. And too much water is just as bad as too little. Conservation is on many a Californian’s mind especially the California farmer. We’ll do our utmost in sustaining our vineyards with an eye to conserve for the future generations. Now a glass of vino is in order.

    Drip irrigation on the Home Ranch vineyards.

    Home Ranch Vineyards

  • Importance of Being Compost

    April 9, 2015 14:02

    Part of being sustainable means we use sound vineyard practices so the impact on our land will be minimized and it will be preserved for future generations. We have three generations and counting on this little corner of Dry Creek Valley! Sustainability in today’s post means using organic material from things like fermentation for the good of the vineyard. For instance, some of the odds and ends from fermentation are spread to lend nutrients to the soil. It has been part of vineyard life since I can remember. When I was growing up we always used pomace in our garden to enrich our zucchini plants, tomato vines and green beans. It is a combination of dried grape seeds and skins left over from the fermenting process and it spends a year drying out, so to speak. I also remember digging around the garden and finding the pomace was full of bug activity too—the good kind to help the garden grow. A phrase used by a grape grower down the road, who was of German decent, always said they used every part of the pig, ‘except the squeal’. In that vein, we use by products of fermenting wine, divert wastewater into ponds where ducks, frogs and turtles thrive, and line roads with erosion-controlling stems. There is still life left in these grape skins and seeds and they are a great addition to vineyards just like they were in our family garden. Were you aware that pomace (fresh) is a component of grappa, the Italian liquor? Like he said, everything except the squeal. Cheers and now for some fermented grape juice in my Dino!

    Fresh pomace in my hand.


    Last vintage’s pomace-not pretty but kept under tarps until dried out. Ready to spread!

    Pomace Pile

  • Bell Beans, Mustard and Vetch: we're covered.

    April 7, 2015 14:09

    I remember when mustard would grow between the vines with its beautiful spring yellow flowers and didn’t know until years later what an important part it played in the vineyard’s health. Cover crops have been integral to vineyards for almost as long as grapes have been grown. When we talk about the good work they do it includes promoting healthy soil, erosion control, eradicating weeds, help control pests, and, either in a drought situation or regular rainy season, they help regulate the moisture in the ground.

    Nitrogen is a by-product of cover crops and is one of the most important minerals when it comes to grapevines. Let’s just say the presence of this mineral, in the right amount, will produce better grapes in the end. Cover crops not only produce it but in the event of too much rain they will also hold the nitrogen in the soil instead of washing away. While this mineral is available in less expensive synthetic form there is so much more to a having a cover crop because of the interaction between the organic matter and the soil. You might also consider the roots as both loosening the ground as well as securing the soil when too much rain falls. And don’t forget your legumes! Bell beans, which have been a cover crop since Roman times, and crimson clover do their part because of the high nitrogen content. Non-legumes include mustard and grasses also play an important role as well. I think I have covered some ground here-time for a tasty glass of wine thanks to bell beans, mustard and clover!

    Visit here for more information about Down to Earth Month.

    Bell Beans flowering in spring.

    Bell Beans flowering

    Mother Clone Vines and cover crop on the Home Ranch.

    Home Ranch in spring

  • Down to Earth Month: Being Sustainable

    April 2, 2015 14:23

    What does it mean to be sustainable? It means to tread lightly and to be good stewards of the land. It means creating a better environment now and for the future generations. Three generations of my family have called Dry Creek Valley home since 1927. Sustainability is part of our DNA. We have always been good stewards from the days when my grandparents tilled the soil, farmed grapes, raised crops and animals to sustain their family to the next 8 decades of tending the land, making wine, and sharing the fruit of our labors. Our family is committed to bringing up the next generations the same way we were. After 87 years of farming we are on the path to be certified sustainable through the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Even our home county of Sonoma has pledged 100% of the vintners and growers will be certified by 2019. We are on board and have accomplished many of the requirements already. Believe me when I tell you I have gone through more than 200 of the assessment questions myself (twice!) and it is gratifying to see the proof of our sustainability in many areas along with room for growth in others. Join me as this month is spent studying our vineyards and winery operations and logging examples of our sustainability. Cheers!

    An example of erosion control: stems from the 2014 harvest are spread along hillside areas to cut back on erosion of the vineyard roads.

    Stems help Erosion control