The story of ZD Wines is a family saga—a family as principled about the environment as it is dedicated to wine making.
It’s evident as soon as you pull into the parking lot, where, you’ll note, everyone on staff drives a hybrid. “Except our CEO,” Dustin Moilanen, the vineyard’s hospitality director, explains. Winemaster Robert deLeuze’s car is all-electric. “He plugs it in at his solar-powered home, so his commute to work is completely ‘green.’ ”
For the ride home, he can charge up at the winery, where 712 solar panels generate more electricity than the entire facility can use. “The excess is returned to the grid,” Molainen assures his visitors.
Clean energy is just the beginning at this sustainable, organic grower and winemaker headquartered in Rutherford, California in the heart of Napa Valley. “My Dad always believed in biodiversity and maintaining healthy, fertile soil without the use of chemical fertilizers,” says Robert de Leuze.
The whole operation was the brainchild of Robert’s father, Norman de Leuze, the rocket-scientist-turned-organic-farmer. Norman pooled resources with aerospace colleague Gino Zepponi to pursue their shared dream of producing Burgundy-style wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
The name ZD Winery references not only the founders’ initials—Zepponi and deLeuze—but also Zero Defects, an aerospace quality-assurance term that represented their aspirations as vintners.
In 1969, deLeuze and Zepponi released their first 300 cases of Pinot Noir from Zepponi’s cousin’s barn in the Carneros region of Sonoma County. Ten years later, deLeuze had jettisoned from the aerospace industry, relocated from Sonoma County to the six-acre site in Rutherford, started building the winery, and planted the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard.
What started as a side job grew into a full-time passion and occupation for not only Norman deLeuze, but two generations of his family to follow thus far.
Healthy Soil through Biodiversity
Norman deLeuze started farming organically in the early 1980’s—way before it caught on and long before receiving official California organic certification in 1999. Appalled by the toxicity of chemicals applied for weed and pest control—as well as the fact that they didn’t seem to work—deLeuze became a student and proponent of biodiversity.
A single teaspoon of soil from a virgin rain forest, he learned, teems with organisms that promote healthy growth, ultimately resulting in healthier, more flavorful crops. To avoid using chemicals that would destroy these beneficial organisms, he introduced natural predators to keep the weeds and pests at bay.
There’s steady work for the six species of chickens in free range on the cabernet, where they aerate the soil while pecking for pests and weed-producing seeds, leaving lots of rich fertilizer in their wake. Hawks, owls and bats attracted to the nesting boxes placed throughout the vineyards further help manage the small critter population and dissuade visits by fruit-plucking birds.
A wide range of sustainable farming techniques maintain the fertility of the soil. No organic materials are disposed of at the winery. All leftovers from the wine-making process—including the stems, seeds, and skins—are composted and returned to the vineyards. The beneficial organisms keep the soil healthy and inviting to earthworms.
Cover crops planted among the vine rows further replenish soil nutrients and prevent erosion. Peas, beans, and clover replace lost nitrogen. Oats and barley add organic material. Mustard allows the soil to better absorb water and minerals.
Flowering annuals promote biodiversity. And perennials provide a permanent, beneficial habitat for pollinators and other invited insects, like ladybugs, who repel incursions from unwelcome species.
We note that rosebushes adorn the head of many of the vinerows, not only here but throughout Wine Country, making an already stunning landscape intoxicatingly beautiful. It’s a convention adopted from French growers, who, according to Moilanen, used roses as an early warning system that mold was setting in. “Sort of a canary in a coal mine,” he explains, their delicate petals being quicker to succumb than the hardier vines.
Sustainable Business Practices
As two more generations of the deLeuze family manage and expand the winery, now producing three different varietals at both the Estate Vineyard in Rutherford and deLeuze Family Carneros Vineyard, they continually look for ways to institute more sustainable practices into their business and daily lives.
According to Robert deLeuze, “Our commitment to finding better and more ecologically friendly approaches has never been stronger.”
Completely powered by homegrown solar energy and wind power, the vineyards recycle or reuse all cardboard, plastics, batteries, glass, metal, paper and any other materials used to make and package wine. They use T8 florescent bulbs and compost food waste.
Out in the fields, a water-conserving drip irrigation system runs on reclaimed water. Extracted from the winemaking process and buildings, waste water is cleansed through an “aerobic digester” and channeled back out to the crops.
We notice a tractor back in the olive groves, which contribute to the farm’s biodiversity as well as produce olive oil served at the vineyards. The tractor runs on biodiesel, we are told. “All our farm equipment runs on virgin soy,” Moilanen affirms. “It emits 67 percent less hydrocarbons and 48 percent less carbon monoxide than conventional diesel—and, of course, it’s renewable.”
So is all this passion and dedication reflected in the taste of the wine? Evidently: ZD Wines have garnered international acclaim for decades.
A three-time winner of the coveted Decanter award, they’ve racked up 108 gold medals, 17 Double Golds, and eight Best-of Class awards since 2004. ZD Wines have frequently been poured at presidential dinners spanning numerous administrations.
The public can sample and purchase their lush, structured Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay offerings in any number of ways:
- Stop in for a no-appointment tasting.
- Take the Wine Train Ambassador Tour.
- Take the vineyards’ Cellar Tour or Eco-Tour.
- Or join the Cycle Tour & Taste Sunday mornings from June 14 through August 14.
After a six-mile ride around the property, visitors enjoy breakfast and beverages at the west-facing Vineyard View room and outdoor deck atop the winery’s crushpad. It’s the perfect way to experience the sensual delights of the awakening valley and the fruit of these vineyards so devotedly crafted by generations of the family deLeuze.
As consumers become increasingly concerned about the environment, the marketplace responds with new technology to fit the demands of a greener lifestyle: CFLs now provide a more energy-efficient alternative than the fluorescent light bulbs of a few years ago. Hybrid cars use less gas and emit fewer fumes than their gas-only counterparts. Solar installations and wind turbines create off-the-grid energy to power homes and businesses. Even clothing is becoming more eco-friendly.
Eco-fashion, also known as green fashion, features clothes made with respect for the environment. Environmentally friendly fabrics are woven from organic fibers that were grown without pesticides or artificial herbicides. In addition, organic fabrics, such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and soy silk are not treated with harmful chemical dyes or bleaches.
Green fashion and organic materials are gaining popularity. Several high-fashion clothing designers, including Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs, Jil Sander, and Versace include designs made from earth-friendly materials in their lines.
Vogue magazine recently compiled tips on how to help save the world — and still turn heads — by wearing eco-friendly textiles. Even popular stores such as TopShop and H&M are promoting organic fashion by featuring eco-friendly clothing.
Components that determine the environmental friendliness of textiles include sustainable farming practices, transportation of both raw materials and finished clothing, fabric biodegradability and, most significantly, the growth and manufacture of fabric fibers.
IMPACT ON THE PLANET
Most consumers recognize the role of transportation in the overall carbon footprint of manufactured goods. But the role of fabric manufacturing is less well-known, though extremely important to keep in mind. Here are a few ways that the fabric production adds to pollution:
- Conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other crop. Every year, cotton growers around the world use approximately $2.6 billion worth of pesticides, equivalent to more than 10% of the world’s total pesticides. Cotton growing also uses nearly 25% of the world’s insecticides, according to Pesticide Action Network North America. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that, in the United States, 1.2 pounds of insecticides and 2.1 pounds of herbicides are applied to each acre of cotton. These synthetic chemicals not only endanger the environment, they also put at risk the health of people and animals living near these fields.
- Sock manufacturers treat socks with nanosilver and ionic silver in order to kill foot odor. As an ongoing study by the University of California Davis shows, once the silver is washed out of socks, it may kill beneficial microbes in soil, groundwater, or streams.
- According to a January 2008 report by Textiles Intelligence, man-made fibers, such as nylon, accounted for 58 percent of fiber demand in 2006. These fibers are made of petrochemicals, and their production requires the use of declining oil and gas reserves. Synthetic fibers are non-renewable, do not biodegrade, and are not easy to recycle. Of even more concern, if these fibers are thermally broken down by being melted in a dryer or very hot water, they may emit a complex mixture of compounds including — but not limited to — carbon monoxide, ammonia, aliphatic amines, ketones, nitriles, and hydrogen cyanide.
- Manufacturing a ton of textiles requires ten times more energy than manufacturing a ton of glass, according to Recycle for Essex.
Yet, not every fabric is harmful to the environment. Incorporating fibers made from organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, or soy into clothing will minimize the impact of cloth manufacturing on the environment.
By definition, organic farming doesn’t use pesticides or artificial fertilizers. An important benefit of growing cotton organically is that the lack of chemical pesticides promotes a healthier workplace. According to the World Health Organization, 20,000 deaths occur each year from pesticide poisoning in developing countries, many of these from traditional cotton farming.
Members of the Sustainable Cotton Project are dedicated to assisting farmers meet the demand for organic cotton by helping manufacturers become greener through The Cleaner Cotton™ Campaign. The SCP’s tactic for creating cleaner cotton focuses on replacing synthetic fertilizers, using innovative weeding strategies instead of herbicides, controlling insect pests with traps rather than pesticides, and finding alternatives to toxic defoliants in order to prepare plants for harvest.
Lynda Grose, marketing Consultant for the Cleaner Cotton™ Campaign, told this reporter that, because of high costs, growing organic cotton has had limited success in developed countries. The Cleaner Cotton Campaign has helped fund organic cotton as a micro niche for farmers in California, in order to give the market a boost in the United States.
Like its traditionally grown counterpart, organic cotton is used to make more than just clothing. Organic cotton can also be used in the manufacture of cotton puffs, ear swabs, sanitary products, make-up removal pads, towels, bathrobes, sheets, blankets, toys, diapers, and bedding. Although not yet at the level of traditionally grown cotton, demand for organic cotton is increasing. In 2008, organic cotton acreage in the United States grew from 6,786 acres to 7,669 acres, according to the Organic Trade Association.
Because hemp requires no pesticides and needs little water, this plant has high potential to create eco-friendly textiles. Hemp grows quickly and densely, eliminating the need for synthetic herbicides or artificial fertilizers. Hemp has naturally long, sturdy fibers, making it long-lasting and durable. Clothing produced from hemp is also warmer, softer, more absorbent, and extremely breathable compared to other textiles. According to Lotus Organics, hemp does not contribute to the greenhouse effect; during the growing process, the plants absorb as much CO2 as what will later be released if the stalks are burned for fuel.
Adam Eidinger, Communications Director at the Hemp Industries Association, said substituting hemp for other materials is another way to reduce potential ground water pollution, because herbicides and pesticides are not used in the growing process. Eidinger also said that hemp is beneficial to the environment because “shifting away from fossil-fuel-based products is another way to conserve [natural] resources while introducing less toxic stuff into the lives of people everywhere.”
The future of hemp in the United States is uncertain, because growing hemp has been prohibited here since the 1950s, when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency classified all C. sativa (hemp) varieties as “marijuana.” Eidinger said hemp will remain a blended fiber with organic cotton until the U.S. certifies industrial hemp.
China, England, France, Holland, Hungary, Russia, and Canada do not have the same restrictions. Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States indicates that world production of hemp fiber grew from 50,000 tons in 2000 to almost 90,000 tons in 2005. Hemp currently accounts for less than 0.5 percent of total world production of vegetable fibers.
In Eidinger’s opinion, U.S. farmers will only grow hemp once they receive government assurance that they will not face prosecution.
Like hemp, bamboo is an extremely rapid grower that doesn’t require pesticides and herbicides. Bamboo plantations require minimal energy because the plant requires very little water and can survive both drought and flooding conditions, according to the Environmental Bamboo Foundation. Because these forests are so dense, the stands release 35% more oxygen than equivalent stands of trees. Some bamboo sequester up to 12 tons of carbon dioxide from the air per hectare.
Organic bamboo cloth is colored with natural dyes. The fabric is 100 percent biodegradable, so it is safe for municipal disposal programs. Bamboo is naturally softer than cotton, is allergy-reduced, and has a natural anti-microbial agent that prevents bacteria from forming on it.
Bamboo is unique, said Adrienne Makita, manager of the Bamboo Fabric Store, because “it’s more luxurious than cotton, more breathable than synthetics, and more delicate than hemp.”
Several different processes can be used to transform bamboo into a fabric. The most environmentally friendly is to mechanically crush the woody parts of the bamboo, then use natural enzymes to turn the bamboo walls into a pulp. The natural fibers are then combed out and spun into yarn.
Bamboo can also be turned into a fabric using chemicals. This chemical process is not as green as the mechanical process. Michael Lackman, a reporter for Organic Consumers Association, wrote “it is important to consider that these chemicals when compared to the pesticides and defoliants used in conventional cotton are much safer on both the environment and arguably, more importantly, the farmers.” Lackman advises consumers to look for the Oeko-Tek certification when buying bamboo clothing, because the certification ensures that the textiles are free of any processing chemicals.
A lesser-known, eco-friendly fiber is soy silk, which is made from tofu-manufacturing waste. Soy protein is liquefied and then extruded into long, continuous fibers that are cut and processed like any other spinning fiber. Because soy has high protein content, the fabric is much more receptive to natural dyes — eliminating the need for synthetic dyes. Soy silk is 100% biodegradable.
In 1941, automobile pioneer Henry Ford, a strong proponent of soybeans, wore the first “soy suit” made of 25 percent soy fibers and 75 percent wool fibers. Today, the South West Trading Company, Inc. (SWTC) features SOYSILK®, a soy fiber and yarn used for spinning, knitting, crotchet, and weaving. Jonelle Raffino, President of SWTC, Inc., said the fabric is “as soft as cashmere.” Soy silk also wicks away moisture and has a soft, gentle drape.
The future of our planet is heavily influenced by the decisions we make today. By insisting on clothing made from eco-friendly fabrics, consumers will drive more demand for environmentally responsible clothing. The benefits to the planet are undeniable. Besides, what could be better than looking good and protecting the environment at the same time?
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
February 3, 2009 by Chef Matthew J.G.
Filed under Australia, Blog, China, Cooking, Ecopreneurs, Environment, Front Page, GMOs, Green Cuisine, Green Living, Organic, Organic Food, Restaurants, Sustainability
When Chef Matthew J. Goudge says that a green cuisine is as delicious as it is good for you, you’ll be wise to listen. Chef Matthew is widely known and respected as a talented organic chef and an industry leader. Having cooked professionally in St. Lucia, Malaysia, China, Austria, Australia, and England, Chef Matthew’s view is that the world is an interconnected place where all should benefit from each other’s knowledge. In his blog, ProChef360, he invites professional chefs from around the world to join in an open forum, sharing their ideas, their tips, their wisdom, their food photos, and their frustrations. We’re pleased to carry on that tradition by sharing Chef Matthew’s thoughts on organic foods and natural cooking.
Although there are many reasons why people should opt for organic foods and natural cooking, there is no better reason than the fact that a “green cuisine” is healthier. Generally, the term organic refers to foods that are free from chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, or any other artificial additives. Organic foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are vital to your health. Using organic foods with natural cooking methods ensures that your body will receive all the nutrients it needs to stay strong and healthy.
And let’s not forget that organic foods are free of chemical additives and sprays, which can distort foods’ natural flavors as well as harm your health. When you consider the benefits of preparing and cooking meals that are packed with nutrients, you definitely have nothing to lose with a green cuisine.
In order to be assured about the authenticity of your organic purchases, it is important to check that they are labeled “certified organic.” This means that the products you buy were grown in accordance with the standards set by appropriate government agencies. This is especially important if you are buying meat. By getting certified meat, you are assured that you won’t be eating meat from animals that have been fed genetically modified feed.
And when you choose organically produced meat and dairy products, you won’t be eating meats exposed to antibiotics or growth hormones. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of the milk produced from dairy cows injected with bovine growth hormone (BGH), a practice that has raised health questions for both cows and humans. Use of the hormone has been banned in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the European Union.
But even growers of organic foods occasionally need to use chemicals. It might be necessary to use a pesticide to save a crop from an infestation of insects, for example. Taking this into consideration, it may be more appropriate to describe organic foods as foods grown and marketed without substantial use of the chemicals traditionally used in large-scale food production. This being said, the use of chemicals is tightly regulated for certified organic farmland.
To be absolutely sure your foods are organic, you can opt to grow them yourself. If you have a large space where you can grow your own vegetable and herb garden, you may even discover you have “green fingers” [a.k.a. “a green thumb,” in the U.S.]. In truth, you don’t need a huge space. Even people living in apartments may find a small, sunny spot where they can naturally grow organic herbs, spices, and vegetables. And if your fingers aren’t so green? There’s an abundance of articles, books and online resources to guide you.
BUYING ORGANIC FOODS HELPS THE ENVIRONMENT
Organic farming is sustainable agriculture, because organic farmers take care to ensure that they do not strip the soil of its natural nutrients. When you opt for organic foods, you help conserve the soil by keeping it from being depleted through commercial farming practices. Older people may recall how dark the soil used to be, and how alive it once was with microorganisms and worms. But the soil on much of today’s farmland is virtually dead, its lifeblood poisoned by years of harmful chemical additives.
Another way organic farmers replenish the soil is by growing a variety of crops, rather than just one or two year after year. This diversity helps in maintaining the health of the soil. Farming organically also helps protect the waterways from harmful chemical runoff, preventing yet another environmental hazard.
When you ask for organically grown foods, you help raise environmental awareness in your community. And you help promote green living and the benefits of a green cuisine.
SHOPPING FOR ORGANIC INGREDIENTS
When shopping for organic foods, be conscious of your choices. Although imported organic foods are now available at many grocery stores, consider buying from local organic farmers. Many communities have food co-ops and farmers’ markets, which make it easy to shop locally. And buying local organic foods helps promote your community’s economy.
While it may be interesting and fun to try out organic and exotic products imported from Asian or South American countries, you will help the environment more if you support growers in your local area. Buying locally reduces gas emissions and fuel consumption during transportation over long distances. And when you get your organic ingredients from local farmers, you will have access to the freshest food choices and a menu that changes with the seasons.
It’s always best to check with your local organic farmers first before buying organic ingredients and products elsewhere. Yet, there will be times when you need to resort to other organic food sources. If your local organic resources are lacking or out of season, you can turn to the Internet for the ingredients you need.
Online shopping has made access to specific organic ingredients relatively easy. You only have to key the name of the ingredients into your favorite search engine, such as Google or Yahoo, and you’ll likely get thousands of hits in seconds. You can type in “buy organic cooking herbs” or “buy organic spices,” and you’ll end up with numerous online stores. Just make sure that you carefully choose your online store and are comfortable with their return policy before you purchase anything.
Although organic foods are essential to a green cuisine, natural cooking is not just about the ingredients you use. A truly green cuisine refers to cooking in a sustainable way. It’s about adopting “conservative” and “preservative” methods. For instance, choosing to use leftover broths as a soup base is a conservative method of cooking. Delegating unused vegetable scraps to the compost pile or to a vermiculture bin are ways to conserve food by keeping it out of the landfill and cooperating with nature’s processes. And the result provides organic soil for your flower gardens.
Natural cooking is also about adopting conservative methods in the kitchen and the dining room. Choose recyclable kitchen materials. Buy foods with minimal or recyclable packaging. Reuse or recycle empty glass or plastic bottles. Use cloth, rather than disposable napkins, and make other sustainable choices as you serve your delicious and healthful green cuisine.
TIPS FOR EASY ORGANIC AND NATURAL COOKING
Here are some tips to help you make the transition to a green cuisine:
- Iodized salt is good, but it’s not organic. It has been processed. Natural sea salt is definitely the better choice, though you will notice a distinct difference in flavor.
- Have a small garden at hand. You can reuse old dish tubs, buckets, or other leak-proof castoffs to create planters for small herb gardens. Not only will you be able to save on your grocery bill, you will also have ready access to delicious organic herbs for flavoring your food.
- Go all-out-organic with your ingredients. This includes the herbs, spices, flour, butter, oil and practically everything you use in cooking meals. There is a huge difference in taste between processed butter and milk and their organic counterparts. Cows that produce organic dairy products are BGH-free and eat only organic grass.
- When buying organic products and ingredients, do not rely on the packaging stating that the product is “organic.” Look for a certification seal from a reputable certifying agency. This means that the organic food product passed the standards set by the appropriate regulating agency.
- Adopt traditional cooking methods (stove top and oven) as much as you can. Avoid using the microwave. Traditional methods of cooking do a much better job of retaining the natural taste of organic foods.
- Use only healthy preservatives. Avoid using preservatives at all, if you can. But when you have to preserve jams or other foods for future use, make sure that you use healthier natural food preservation methods.
- A true organic kitchen requires nearly all organic ingredients. Don’t let the enormity of the task overwhelm you. It’s a target to aim for, but every change makes a difference, no matter how small.
- When eating organically, there is no longer any need to buy expensive liquids (often called “veggie wash”) to try to clean off the unwanted toxins before feeling it’s safe to eat those fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Be prepared for a little more effort. For a truly green cuisine, you’ll have to avoid the luxury of using cheaper, prepared, artificially preserved ingredients.
GREENING THE CUISINE IN YOUR RESTAURANT
Organic cooking is a worthwhile endeavor but, for chefs and restaurant owners, there are some additional considerations before adopting natural cooking methods and serving organic foods:
- If you are going to run an organic restaurant, 95 percent of the food you are going to serve must be organic. This includes the herbs, spices, flour, butter, oil and practically everything you use in cooking meals.
- As much as you would like to turn organic, it can be difficult if you don’t have sufficient budget. Organic ingredients can be a bit more expensive than regular ingredients. If you own your kitchen or restaurant, you can adjust your budget accordingly. It’s a different story, however, if you are working for someone else. The cost of ingredients may increase by about 30–50 percent, a significant concern for a traditional restaurant. This won’t be a problem, though, if your restaurant already is an organic one; customers wanting an organic menu understand the additional costs of providing a green cuisine.
- Pastry chefs can also adopt natural cooking in their baking methods. If you need to prepare pastries in small quantities, you don’t have to use a large oven to bake them. This is why it is advisable that you have smaller ovens where you can bake a small quantity of breads, cakes, and pastries. In fact, you can even bake small items using your toaster oven.
- Be prepared to give a sales pitch about your menu and methods to your customers. Not everyone understands the terms organic and natural cooking or green cuisine. Some may initially relate organic food or green cuisine to vegetarianism, or they may think of organic foods as dull and tasteless. You may need to be persuasive at first and adopt efficient marketing methods to sell your organic meals. But soon your menu will win over your customers with the superior quality and taste of organic foods and natural cooking methods.
Admittedly, organic foods are a bit more expensive and take more planning and effort than what we have come to expect from “normal” (processed, preserved, packaged, prepared, and fast) foods. But it’s a small price to pay in return for natural and healthy foods, and the delicious experience of eating a green cuisine.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Walk through the garden gate at C. Donatiello Winery, and aromas of raspberries, peaches, and fragrant flowers waft to your nose. Take your time. Stroll along, sipping from a glass of Maddie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, made with organic grapes grown nearby. Savor the experience. You’ll soon understand why owner Chris Donatiello treats the land and the grapes in his vineyards with the care of a loving parent.
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed Donatiello from his office near Healdsburg, California. We wanted to learn about the sustainable and organic farming practices that are integral to the production of C. Donatiello’s fine wines. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: How do you differentiate your winery from anything else in the Russian River Valley?
DONATIELLO: There are two parts of who we are. Actually neither of them is about being “green” and “organic”; that’s something we do because it’s important to us, and we think it helps make better wine. From a wine profile perspective, we want the wines to show where they’re coming from.
The Russian River Valley is a special place with a lot of varied areas, different soils and vegetation; there’s no point in making a single vineyard if it doesn’t show the valley’s diversity. We look for balanced wines, food-friendly wines. From a wine-making and taste-profile perspective, that’s what’s important. The second part is that when people come here and picnic, we want them to feel our hospitality. We want them to stay as long as they want, to go to our garden and pick raspberries and peaches. Hospitality is a large part of what we do.
BPGL: What are you doing to be organic and natural?
DONATIELLO: It’s more what we’re not doing. We’re not putting Roundup on our fields. We don’t use any pesticides or herbicides that are not organic. We use a lot of organic oils to discourage insects. We’re not using rat poison. You may kill the rat, but then the cat that eats the rat dies, and then the vulture that eats the cat dies. It keeps going and going and going. It’s not healthy for the environment. As much as what we are doing, we pay attention to what we’re not doing. That’s a big component of our CCOF certified organic vineyards.
BPGL: So, are C. Donatiello wines considered “organic wines?”
DONATIELLO: There’s a difference between organically farmed grapes and organic wine. Organic wine requires organic grapes, but you can have organic grapes without making organic wine. It comes down to a winemaking decision. It’s more important from a global, environmental perspective to grow organic grapes. And from a taste perspective, it’s also important. If you don’t take care of the grape on the vine, in process, or in the barrel or the bottle, it will affect the taste of the wine.
None of our wines are technically “organic,” but we use organically grown grapes. Because there are sulfides used in the winery process, we can’t say the wine is organic. For example, Maddie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir is made with certified organic grapes. Even though we can’t advertise it as “organic wine,” using organically grown grapes to make it is important to us — and it improves the wine. Our Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Zinfandel and Syrah are also made from organically grown grapes.
BPGL: You mentioned that your vineyards are sustainably farmed. What does that mean in terms of how you tend the land and care for the grapes?
DONATIELLO: It means we’re tending the vineyards in a way that they aren’t going to run out of nutrients and harm the environment. Whatever we take out, we’re going to put back in. It’s not like in the past; when it got to the point that there weren’t enough nutrients, you moved to the next spot. We saw that before farmers started rotating crops. That’s not great for the environment, and not what we want to do. This land is here for a long time and it will continue to provide for us; we need to provide for it. We want to make sure the fertilizers we use and the cover crops we grow will improve the land. That’s not just for the grapevines, but for the land itself.
BPGL: What extra effort does it take to organically farm grapes?
DONATIELLO: The extra effort isn’t substantial. Some of the things we use to be certified organic — such as organic oils for pest control — cost a little more, but it shows. Whatever you do to the earth, it shows through. That’s especially true with the Pinot Noir grape; it makes such a light, elegant wine. We choose our cover crops carefully and want to be as green as possible. We take about 8 to 10 tons off the land each year, and we plant about that much cover crop — New Zealand clover to peas, to yellow and white mustard. We plant between the vines, so that makes a home for the insects. We plant in October, and it grows through the winter. Then it decomposes and adds nutrients to the soil. It’s good for the earth.
BPGL: You mentioned earlier that you plant cover crops partly for the insects. Explain what you mean by that.
DONATIELLO: We plant certain crops to attract beneficial bugs, whether it’s the worms that are helping to aerate the ground or spiders. We love spiders! They spin their webs and catch the smaller insects that otherwise would be trying to feed off the grapevines. We’re in a pretty rural area, and we attract everything from field mice to spiders. We’ll be bringing in bees in another month or two. We don’t need bees for the grapes, as they’re self-pollinating; we want them for the garden. And we’ll sell the honey in the tasting room. We have the space and the facility to do it; it’s beneficial to us and to them, so why not do our part?
BPGL: Are most vineyards in your area using sustainable farming methods?
DONATIELLO: A lot of the vineyards are farmed sustainably. And, if they’re not fully sustainable, they’re working toward it. Vineyard owners tend to have a keen understanding of the need to take care of the environment and balance that with actually doing business. If you’re a vineyard owner and have a serious infestation, you might break down and use pesticides. That doesn’t mean you’re not looking after your grapes in every other way. But you need those grapes to pay the bills. I can’t blame someone who does use a pesticide to treat an infestation. All grape growers care about the environment. They want to see it maintained so generations to come can partake in their profession and not worry about what the generations before did.
BPGL: Is the drought affecting your wines?
DONATIELLO: Not really. The drought has become a problem for a lot of people, and we do need some rain. But we put very little water on the vines. We don’t dry farm, but we come pretty close. We want to stress the vines a little. We can always buy water if we need to. We have enough to grow good grapes. What we need it for is cleaning, sterilizing, and processing when we’re making the wine.
BPGL: I’ve been told that the best wines are produced when you stress the grapes. Is that consistent with your experience?
DONATIELLO: I think that’s especially true when you’re talking about some of the Italian or Bordeaux varietals. But the Pinot Noir is a very delicate grape. I say this all the time, “Pinot remembers everything you do to it, and holds a grudge.” It’s one of the reasons why some of our vineyards are organic, and the rest are sustainably farmed.
BPGL: You talk about wine like it has a human personality.
DONATIELLO: Each wine has its own character. We have expectations for our wines, just as I do for my daughter. I have an understanding of my wines, just as I do of my daughter. I watch them evolve from grape to wine to aged wine. They change and grow. There’s a parallel for sure.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Learn how to improve the health of the planet in Grinnell, Iowa, October 31 – November 2, 2008, at the Bioneers TALLGRASS Conference.
The conference “will feature live plenary speakers and workshops on a range of topics, from renewable energy and sustainable farming, to art, design, and social activism.” BIONEER plenary speakers will be broadcast live by satellite from California.
Local speakers include Steve Fugate of Green World Biofuels; Brad Young, who teaches about natural building; Lonnie Gamble, founder of Abundance Ecovillage and Big Green Summer; Mark Kreskowick of Interfaith Power and Light; Jerry Young Bear, speaking about Nature and the Folklore of the Mesqwaki People; and more.