Submitted by Bailie, Jami Castro and Nelson Cortez
While deeply committed to their winemaking roots, Napa Valley’s farmers are more than just grape growers - they are visionaries, sustainability experts, human rights activists and are at the forefront of adapting the industry to meet an ever changing climate.
On Friday, October 4th members of LNV Class 33 rose early to start Agriculture Day with a harvest “ride-along” at three Napa Valley wineries, Frogs Leap, Quintessa, and Nickel & Nickel. As we walked through the vineyards, we listened to winemakers and vineyardists speak from the heart about what it takes to produce world-class wine. We learned that it is a precarious dance every day to figure out what the vines need. As Rory Williams of Frog’s Leap Winery put it, “We try to think like a grape vine” to figure out what his team can do to work with the vine and help it along. That help comes in many forms, be it applying compost, growing nutrient rich cover crops and cutting off a vine’s water supply to help it build resiliency and produce grapes.
“Weather is no longer predictable these days,” says Dan Petroski of Larkmead Vineyard and Winery. He explained that no two years are identical and climate change will inevitably transform the way wine is produced in Napa. From fires, floods and droughts, grape growers are learning how to deal regularly with these once-rare devastations. The accelerating effects of climate change are forcing the industry to take decisive steps to counter or adapt to the shifts and many are doing this with an eye towards sustainability, while also turning a profit.
Ana Britton of Napa Green, a comprehensive sustainability certification program for vineyards and wineries, detailed the “soil-to-bottle stewardship” elements that not only benefit vineyards, but help sustain the Valley’s precious ecosystems. In a partnership with the Napa County Resource Conservation District and other third-party agencies, Napa Green promotes protecting the Napa River watershed, keeping harmful chemicals out of the Valley’s soil and monitoring energy and water usage. Britton was proud to inform us that Napa Green has successfully certified 60% of all wineries in the Valley and counting.
Sustainability is not just about the land, but also about the people who work tirelessly to keep the vineyards and wineries operating. Social and gender equity and caring for farmworkers is paramount to growing and sustaining the industry. Paul Goldberg of Napa’s Farmworker Foundation presented the work the organization does to support and grow individuals through their education and professional development. We heard from Roberto Juarez and Adriana Zamodia who have benefited from these programs, which have allowed them to improve their English literacy and management skills and become invaluable employees of the Renteria Vineyard Management team.
In order for us to understand the current and future threats to the Napa County Agricultural Preserve, Supervisor Diane Dillon and Ag Commissioner Humberto Izquierdo gave us an overview of the landmark land use policy. We learned the Agricultural Preserve, which was adopted by Napa County’s voters, has enabled the County to maintain its scenic beauty and rural character while other California counties have sacrificed those qualities to development. As the towns within Napa continue to grow and fill in, the pressure to allow development of agricultural lands will likely continue to grow. This process is already underway in St. Helena, Yountville, American Canyon and Napa. Ted Hall, winemaker, owner of Farmstead Restaurant and one of the nation’s leaders in the farm-to-fork movement, echoed the sentiments of Ms. Dillon and Mr. Izquierdo while we feasted on a delicious lunch made from produce grown and meat raised on his local organic farms. According to Hall, “if we protect our Ag Preserve, we protect the wonderful quality of life that it enables all of us to enjoy.”
We also heard from individuals whose missions support Napa County’s Agricultural Preserve. The Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and the Napa Valley Vintners work individually and together to promote, protect and move forward initiatives that enhance the Napa Valley and preserve its winemaking heritage.
Agriculture Day not only helped LNV Class 33 gain a greater understanding of the complexities of making wine in the Napa Valley, we gained insight on the many challenges impacting the preservation of our agricultural sanctuary. Above all, we learned that many passionate people are behind this effort. Their love for Napa County extends far beyond the terroir and benefits the whole community.