You don’t have to drink wine to enjoy the beauty of a vineyard. But I must admit, having an appreciation for it surely does make a visit all the sweeter. Such was the case for me, and our GGW crew on this trip to Fetzer Vineyards, known around the world as “the Earth Friendly Winery”.
Since our series is all about people, places and organizations doing good things for the planet with an emphasis on gardening, sometimes I have to keep an open mind on what to feature and how to tell the story. My idea for featuring a winery came about for one main reason; I was curious to see how a large commercial vineyard like Fetzer could dramatically reduce their environmental footprint while dealing with the challenges of living in the chemical world of commercial agriculture. Call me a skeptic, but I just had to see it for myself!
And, I was not disappointed. Led by Fetzer’s Manager of Sustainability, Dr. Ann Thrupp and David Koball, Director of Vineyards, as a company, they do many of the usual things you might expect towards environmental stewardship: recycling paper waste, taking advantage of natural light, and conserving energy wherever possible. But beyond that, I was excited to see solar panels covering the roofs of several large buildings, the office had used reclaimed paint, salvaged wood for trusses and walls and even local mud that when dried, is similar to plaster. I like companies that walk their talk.
But it was the vineyards themselves that really stole the show in both eye candy and all the things I love about gardening. When it comes to commercial agriculture, it takes a lot of faith to make the commitment to not jump on the synthetic super highway of quick chemical fixes; pesticides, herbicides and soluble fertilizers. But that’s just what Fetzer did 25 years ago and they’ve never looked back.
It was so gratifying to me to know that they rely on compost made on site, worm castings and cover crops, to provide soil fertility, weed suppression and biodiversity. Their crops are vigorous and resistant to many ailments that may otherwise derail a normal harvest. By not overloading their fields with an imbalance of vines to soil nutrient reserves, they promote a symbiotic relationship between what the soil can supply and the plant’s demand.
And they don’t cultivate all their land just to maximize the harvestable volume. Instead, they recognize the importance of biodiversity to the overall health of the vineyard, leaving large natural buffers and riparian zones which in turn regenerates the growing region for even greater productivity–all without chemical inputs. Beyond that, I learned that Fetzer places a large emphasis on training even industry competitors on how to manage their vineyards and companies in a more earth-friendly way. Did I mention that I really like companies that walk their talk?
Of course it seems only logical that equipped with all that information on these earth-friendly growing practices, I should taste how this wines stacks up to the competition! (wink) Seriously folks, actually taking a sip directly from one of the large stainless tanks, poured by the winemaker himself, Dennis Martin, was a real thrill. The wine was at the perfect temperature to bring out its peak flavors while our conversation around the making of their product, fascinating. And if that wasn’t enough to make for a banner day, wrapping up our episode in the oak barrel room, where a staggering 35,000 of them are full of wine being stored for natural aging was the icing on the cake. The only thing left for me to see is the actual harvesting of the grapes, which takes place sometime in October. I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet I’ll be back.