After my last batch of DIY home winemaking resulted in five gallons of red wine vinegar, I realized that perhaps I need to leave winemaking to the experts. Fortunately, vintners in Sonoma County, California, share my values of biodynamic and organic farming. These wineries are working together to make Sonoma County the nation’s first 100-percent certified sustainable wine region.
“Research increasingly shows that people want to purchase and use sustainable products that are good for the environment,” explains Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers, an organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of this area as one of the world’s premier grape growing regions. “Our being hundred-percent certified sustainable means consumers can be confident that when they purchase and drink a bottle of wine with Sonoma County on the label, they know that the farmer is following a rigorous set of farming practices that steward the land for future generations.”
What better way to experience this sustainability mission than by visiting these eco-forward wineries in person. Accompanied by my husband-photographer, John Ivanko, we did our “tour and taste” last fall. With over 400 wineries in Sonoma County, your biggest challenge is narrowing down options. Here are three of our favorites: Quivira, DaVero and Truett Hurst wineries, all a short, scenic drive outside Healdsburg, California, about an hour and a half drive north of San Francisco.
Pigs. Cows. Bees. A five-hundred-yard compost pile. At first glance, you’re more likely to think this is a diversified homestead than an award-winning winery. But at Quivira Winery, family owned since 1981 and organic certified, diversity is embraced and celebrated, realizing a healthy mix of bio-diversity is what adds up to a vibrant landscape that makes them a leading producer of Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Rhone varietals.
“At Quivira, we pay a lot of attention to detail and cultivation as everything that creates fruitfulness and healthy soils comes from right here on the estate,” shares Ned Horton, vineyard manager and viticulturist. After the grape harvest in late fall, Horton will turn compost into the soil and then sow cover crops, a rich source of nitrogen. Quivira also has extensive gardens for visitors to meander through and the winery was an early adopter of solar power, with a 55 kW photovoltaic system to meet some of their energy needs.
DaVero Farms and Winery
"Grow what belongs here. Be patient." This is the premise summarizing the philosophy behind DaVero Winery and drives everything they do, from how they care for the land to how they craft wine, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
In addition to producing fruit forward wines in the Italian tradition, a unique aspect of DaVero is their olive trees, first planted over twenty-five years ago and now over 4,500 trees. Original cuttings were made from an ancient grove in Tuscany. These olive trees produced the very first American extra virgin olive oil to win a blind tasting in Italy, among other awards. The olives are harvested by hand over several weeks in the fall and are pressed the day they are picked using a traditional stone wheel.
DaVero’s winemaking approach also uses traditional Old World techniques that aim to keep the vineyards on the wilder side with a diverse undergrowth that creates a home for beneficial insects that then enrich the soil.
Truett Hurst Winery
Founded in 2007 by two longstanding winemaking families, Truett Hurst Winery sees sustainability as minimizing their environmental footprint in all aspects of the business, taking a holistic approach inspired by the biodynamic teachings of Rudolph Steiner. Their wine collection covers a variety of palates, from a Salmon Run Rose with nuances of peach, strawberry, key lime and herbal spice to the Dark Horse GPS with aromatics of dark currents and mocha that pairs perfectly with a Wild Mushroom Tartine.
“Biodynamic farming is similar in philosophy to raising children,” explains Paul Dolan, an owner of Truett Hurst Winery and also the president of the Demeter Association, a leading non-profit championing biodynamic practices to heal the planet through agriculture. “As parents we have the opportunity and responsibility to provide a great environment for our children in which they can create and explore. Same thing with our vineyards as we want to create a healthy ecosystem where the grapes and therefore wine can fully express themselves naturally.”
Wineries such as these leading a commitment to the future go behind the landscape and product and also support winery employees and communities. Kruse helped relaunch the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation (SCGGF), a 501(c)3 with a focus on private/public partnerships that provide affordable housing, childcare, education, healthcare and workforce development for the Latino farmworker and their families.
Such strong support in the winery community was clearly evidenced in October, 2017, when the SCGGF spearheaded the support plan after the devastating fires in the area, providing housing and household supplies for the hundreds of agricultural workers displaced by the flames.
“At its heart, sustainability means caring for our community and being there when one of us needs help,” sums up Kruse.
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam and millions of ladybugs.
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