My first job as a young winemaker was at Mount Eden Vineyards, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Living and working in this remote location taught me first hand lessons about conservation. Water for two homes and a winery was sourced from a tiny spring that dried up each summer and then had to be trucked in. For years after leaving that mountain, I could not bear the sound of a faucet running.
I brought in winery supplies and hauled out wine shipments, as no delivery company would make the arduous trek up the steep, milelong dirt road. Everything was recycled or composted – a trip to the dump was rare. The barrel and wine cellars were located underground with no refrigeration necessary. A huge garden supplied most of our fresh produce, while a flock of ducks, geese and chickens supplied eggs, meat and sentinels for guard duty.
Flash forward to 1998 … to avoid fumigation at the Meredith Estate vineyard site, I hired a company to dig up and box thirty-two oak trees alive. This strategy removed nearly all large roots and associated oak root fungus, thus allowing the trees to be recycled as landscape features. The soil was then raked using a harrow, followed by a team of workers to remove remaining roots. Conserving natural soil microorganisms gave the young vines a healthy start.
A pond was developed to collect rainwater runoff from the steep hillside. It provides water for irrigation and frost protection, while supporting a variety of migratory waterfowl. Within sight of the pond are owl houses and hawk perches to welcome these feathered hunters. The remaining gophers are trapped by hand – no poisons are ever used. Deficit irrigation practices require only a few applications of water, by drip, late in the season.
Our modern vertical trellis system uses stakes formed from recycled car bodies while the end posts had previous lives as drill stems in oil wells. Vines trained in this manner require far less chemicals than farming methods of thirty years ago. In partnership with our neighbor Gourmet Mushroom, we use the spent oak-based growing medium they generate as a nutrient rich compost application for our vineyards. Processed grape skins, seeds and stems are also used to replenish the soil.
For our wines, we continue to use renewable natural cork, which in itself is recyclable. Our new winery facility, completed in 2008, incorporates many green features. The solar system supplies virtually 100% of our electrical needs. A new style of industrial fluorescent fixture has cut lighting needs by fifty percent. Hot water is supplied by efficient, brainy, stand-by gas heaters plumbed in sequence, generating only enough hot water to meet demand. The parking lot is paved with permeable concrete, which allows rainwater to flow directly through this normally impervious surface. Our offices are not painted; instead the interior walls were coated with green-certified Tobias Stucco. Our efforts continue – please join us in creating a sustainable future for us all.