Daily Chronicle

Uncorked: Wineries aim to minimize environmental impact

A familiar refrain comes from every conversation with a winemaker.

All are doing their part to protect the fragile nature of the environment in an attempt to preserve or improve what Mother Nature offers.

Wineries have set an example when it comes to forward thinking that should inspire everyone from people at home to big business leaders in corporate boardrooms.

At Ehlers Estate, winemaker and General Manager Laura Díaz Muñoz is proud the soil at the Napa Valley winery is loaded with life. While it once seemed like organic and biodynamic farming was a trend, it’s now commonplace.

“If you dig in our soil, there are worms and living things,” Díaz Muñoz said. “All the inputs we put into the vine affect the wine. If it’s not farmed properly, that affects everything in the soil.”

The evolution of responsible farming has led to wineries examining other aspects of their business where they can minimize environmental impact. Carbon accounting has moved beyond solar power and into electric vehicle or tractor usage. Biodiversity in the vineyard, and the recyclable nature of packaging are just a few ways wineries have moved to further reduce a negative influence on the environment.

“I try to minimize the amount of trips we take,” Díaz Muñoz said. “For a small winery, we have four different warehouses. We minimize the ways we move wines. We plant hedgerows and lines of trees to create micro habitats. We have a big garden that’s butterfly-friendly. We farm organically; everyone should do that, there should be no other kind of way. To me, it’s the answer. There’s no reason to work differently. We are also fish-friendly in our farming practices. I think about the impact we will have with everything we do.”

When Gratsi co-founder and President Aaron Moore launched his direct-to-consumer brand, it had a minimal carbon footprint. Almost all of Gratsi’s packaging can be recycled. Moore has heard the plastic bag can’t be recycled, and he’s working on finding a way to make that change.

“People can get hung up on the plastic bag component,” Moore said. “I understand on the surface level where they are coming from. But you have to look at all the components. The carbon footprint that glass creates, it’s very heavy, it moves a third of the amount of wine compared to what we move in bulk. It’s far less of a footprint, and it’s getting better all the time. We look at the long term, where it is now, and how it is going to be in the coming years. What we really want is that bag to get to a fully recycled product. Our suppliers are working day and night at that.”

Because Gratsi doesn’t rely on glass production or transportation to the winery and eventually from the winery to distribution, Moore said their carbon footprint is already 80% less than other wineries.

Kiss the Ground wants to create “soil advocates.” The nonprofit had a solid partner in Wente Vineyards as 25 cents of every bottle sold through August 2021 was donated to Kiss the Ground. The regenerative agriculture and education platform is designed to support the earth and mitigate climate change. The Livermore winery was founded in 1883, and is the country’s longest continuously operated family winery.

As part of its announcement with Kiss the Ground, Wente sent a 100% recyclable coaster with embedded wild flower seeds. As the winery moves past its 138th year of operation, it does so with a large portfolio of wines from its Certified California Sustainable Vineyards and Winery.

The Wente Niki’s Rosé 2020 ($35) had strawberry, watermelon and cantaloupe with a crisp finish. The Wente Pinot Noir Riva Ranch 2018 ($23) had a rich nose of warm, red fruit of strawberry and raspberry. There was a smattering of clove and cinnamon spice prior to the final emergence of pine needle.

These were tasty, affordable wines from a winery dedicated to paying it forward to the next generation. While spring might seem a long way off, like the coaster of wildflower seeds planted in the fall, it’s closer to sprouting.

What has grown in the wine industry over the past 10 years is the desire to sustain farmland.

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at jamesnokes25@yahoo.com.