Green grapes

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Lake & Sumter Style Magazine. Photos courtesy of Parducci Wine Cellars

April is “Down-to-Earth Month” for California winemakers who are going green from grapes to glass. Old-World farming techniques and new technologies are helping to create sustainable winemaking practices that benefit the environment and wine lovers.

California winemaking is rich with heritage and all the vintners I have ever interviewed enthusiastically described their deep connections to the land itself. For those reasons, most of them have been at the forefront for environmental and community stewardship, making California a world leader in sustainable wine growing practices. According to the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), more than 1,800 wineries were participating in its sustainable wine growing program at the end of 2012.

Old-World agricultural techniques have been around decades among grape growers, but this month the marketing spotlight will shine on sustainable practices. When shopping for wines, you most likely will see the “Down-to-Earth” campaign promoting California wines and you may ask yourself just what “sustainable” means and why is it important?

A sustainable system maintains its viability with techniques that are good for the environment and allow for continual reuse and future growth. These practices create healthy vineyards, which in turn produce some very delicious wines that oenophiles around the country love.

“Sustainability is a vital part of the long-term future of California wine, which contributes to California’s and the nation’s economy, attracts twenty million tourists annually, and generates 820,000 jobs nationwide,” explained Robert P. Koch, president of the Wine Institute, the organization that created the Down-to-Earth campaign. “It also allows vintners and growers to pass on their farms and wineries to future generations.”

DG_Parducci-43chickensAs a fan of the Petite Sirah from Parducci Wine Cellars, I was delighted to read on a recent label that the Mendocino County winery employs sustainable farming practices. For instance, Parducci uses sheep to control grass and weeds; likewise, chickens till the soil and eat insects. The domestic animals, along with leftover grape skins, seeds, and stems from the winemaking process, contribute to an extensive composting operation, which naturally feeds the vines. Parducci has also constructed a wetlands area to reclaim water from its winemaking process.

Fetzer Vineyards, another well-known and popular California brand, has been a true pioneer and leader for implementing sustainable practices. Long before the word “sustainable” became popular, Fetzer developed practices in the 1980s that were environmentally friendly and economically viable. It also was the first company in the wine industry to adopt a green power contract. Renewable energy sources at the winery include solar, wind, geothermal, and small-scale hydroelectric power.

At the family-owned J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines in Paso Robles, grass roads reduce erosion in the winter and minimize dust in the summer. J. Lohr, like many other California wineries, plants cover crops between vine rows to enrich the soil and improve water infiltration. The list of creative, yet sustainable, grape-growing practices is long.

Sustainability encompasses more than old-world farming, though. Preserving natural habitats, protecting water and air quality, using solar power or other renewable energy sources, and buying environmentally preferred products are just as important to the wine industry’s sustainability efforts. Providing leadership to protect the environment and conserving natural resources are also vital to members of the CSWA sustainable wine growing program. All the while, wine growers are expected to produce the best grapes and wines possible at reasonable costs.

It takes a huge commitment of resources to go green from grapes to the glass. Down-to-Earth Month is a perfect time to raise a glass of California wine and say “saluté” to the wineries that are creating healthy and beautiful environments along with award-winning products.

For a list of wineries and vineyards that practice sustainable wine growing, visit

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