Our Commitment to Sustainability
Gently tucking new shoots
under the catch wires.
Entrance to cave from across the lake
Harvesting at night with bird netting lifted for access to fruit
First step in winemaking; gentle gravity-flow destemming of the grapes into the fermenter
Myfanwy is cooling a pinot fermenter by adding dry ice during a punch down
Our crew is loading the press with pinot pomace. One fermenter equals one press load.
2009 pinot noir that has flowed into the barrels from the pressing above
In managing our vineyard and winery, we try to follow nature's lead. In the three decades since John first planted the vineyard, we have worked diligently to refine our farming methods toward a long-term sustainable model that conserves natural resources, protects wildlife and reduces our climate footprint.
Our solar panels at work
The vineyard and winery are both totally solar powered. The water pumped out of Heron Lake to irrigate the vines is lifted uphill by energy collected from the solar panels. Our winery pumps are powered by solar radiation converted to electrical energy, then to mechanical torque to gently move the wine. In choosing solar power, we have looked to the example of the vine leaf itself and its efficient conversion of the sun's eternally renewable energy.
The vineyard is nestled among the hills in an area rich with biodiversity, so we have adopted farming methods that live in harmony with the wildlife around us. Instead of using insecticides, we have a well-established native cover crop to prevent erosion and habitat for beneficial insects. An owl house hangs from an ancient oak to provide habitat for rodent predators. The elemental sulfur we use to control powdery mildew has an organic rating. Rather than trap birds that nest in the mixed forest surrounding the vineyard and love to nibble on our grapes, we net the vines to keep them away. Other critters like raccoons, wild pigs and wild turkeys also love our ripe fruit. Olivia the dog enjoys chasing the turkeys away; however, nature will take its tithe. This economic threshold approach is considered a fundamental principle of integrated pest management, part of sustainability.
Careful, Efficient Farming
Over the years, we have learned which parts of the vineyard are naturally the most productive, based on water drainage, soil and wind, and made adjustments accordingly. We've reduced the original vineyard area and doubled the row spacing in the best areas while allowing some of the old, less productive vineyard to become wildlife corridor again. Last year, we added twenty truckloads of compost to enrich our soil. There are still changes to make and lessons to learn to leave this land in better condition for future generations than we found it. Obviously, quality fruit is paramount, and reverential, harmonious farming will give us that.
We've produced chardonnay wine from this single vineyard since 1985, and pinot noir since 1989. We like the idea of being a "local" winery. Thanks to our many loyal supporters and many great local restaurants and wine shops, we sell most of what we make in the Bay area. John and I enjoy knowing our customers personally and delivering the wine ourselves– but we're glad to share our wines with great restaurants in distant places who've sought us out. And we're happy to see visitors from afar who are now part of our growing family of friends.
Green Building and Wine Making
About twenty years ago, John and I built a tractor storage building using the plentiful native stones from the vineyard. We have re-purposed this structure to store the bottled case goods onsite instead of in a commercial warehouse. The building is so thoroughly insulated that it requires no electrical powered cooling; only a tiny fan is used to draw in the cool nighttime mountain air to passively maintain ideal wine storage temperature. All the lumber for the reframing was recycled wood that might have been landfilled otherwise.
After years of planning and dreaming we have moved into our new winery. The 2008 pinot and chard were the first wines to be aged and bottled at the new facility. The guiding principle for our winery design is, first and foremost, gentle fruit handling – not a seed broken! This dictates a gravity flow system (how wine was produced before PG&E was around). The process works on four levels, with the vineyard being the uppermost level. After harvesting, grapes are carried downhill to be weighed box-by-box and poured into the de-stemmer. The whole berries, minus stems, fall into the fermenter four feet below. After fermenting and pressing on the main crush pad, the wine flows downhill once again into the underground barrel aging cellar. Some of the world's most respected wines use a similar design. The roof above the wine vault is covered with several feet of topsoil and compost and is a fine garden of heirloom tomatoes and Silver Queen corn each summer! Watering the garden will ensure a cooler wine cave below.
Our new gravity flow winery design reminds me of my favorite class five rapid called Clavey Falls on the Tuolumne River. The Tuolumne falls about 30 feet through three drops in about 100 yards –about the same as the path of our pinot noir grapes becoming Olivia Brion wine!
Unlike standard industrial winemaking, we do not need or want an electrical refrigeration system. By fermenting in small one-ton open top fermenters, much of the heat (and some alcohol) is evaporated naturally. We harvest the grapes at night to start with very cool fruit. Fermentation generates heat, and pinot noir is notorious for a (potentially damaging) rapid fermentation rate. If the temperature starts to climb, adding dry-ice as needed will very effectively and quickly drop the temperature. Seven pounds of dry-ice will drop the temperature of one ton of grapes by 1°F, and it's great fun to watch! Although dry-ice does take energy to make and ship, it is much more efficient than having a big cooler running all the time during the winemaking season.
—David Mahaffey, Winemaker