12 Of The Most Environmentally Friendly Wineries in California
Sustainable farming and winemaking practices are not new to the wine industry. Thankfully, more producers in California are adopting them. Along with the benefit of a lower impact on the environment, sustainable winegrowing and production often yield superior vintages.
This write-up focuses on 12 of the most environmentally friendly wineries in California. But first things first, let’s acquainted with some basic terms with regard to sustainable wine-making.
Eco-Friendly Wine Growing
Eco-friendly wine-growing is an umbrella term describing low-impact harvesting and wine production. In other words, wine-makers use tools and techniques that leave no impact on the soil, the grapes, and the surroundings.
Sustainable practices involve nature and water conservation and responsible pest management and energy consumption. For example, there may be plants between rows of grapes to attract beneficial insects and maintain biodiversity.
This is a great resource if you want to learn more about the leading edge of sustainability practices in the wine industry.
Insects like ladybugs, spiders, predatory mites, and wasps are all beneficial to keeping harmful bugs under control. In general, wine growers promote favorable conditions for these desirable insects. Subject to local regulations, they may also introduce them into the vineyard.
Don’t be surprised if you see free-running chickens or sheep in California vineyards. They are great at keeping the cutworm population in check and the sheep could play another part in grazing through weeds. In addition, growers may set up perches and nests to attract birds that feed on rodents. Small hawks like the Kestrel are becoming a familiar sight at more environmentally-friendly vineyards.
Maintaining a healthy habitat around the vineyard is crucial. Green corridors allow wildlife to access water and forestland. Instead of cutting down existing trees, the growers plant around them and work with the local municipalities to revive riparian areas, streams, and wetlands. Why do they do it?
Trees are the natural habitats for birds of prey like falcons owls that help to naturally control pests. The greater biodiversity translates to a more sustainable ecosystem and promotes water flow regulation, pollination, and the microclimate necessary to growing wine.
Investing in sustainable energy helps producers cut down on operating costs and minimize carbon footprint. Larger wineries consume a lot of energy during the wine production and bottling processes. There are also energy requirements related to farming operations. Solar panels may be installed on the farms to power irrigation pumps, motors, and other equipment. Electric vehicles are a common sight and a lot of the machines run on biodiesel.
Wineries are now turning to high-capacity batteries to store energy collected during sunny daytime hours. This stored energy can be deployed during hours of peak energy need or during night time operations. Companies like Tesla are partnering with wineries in California to develop micro-grids that can supply much of the required electrical power.
Early morning or night-harvesting reduces refrigeration needs. More importantly, the grapes reach the winery in a cool condition which helps preserve the acidity and shape, one of the key things that influence the final wine quality. Plus, growers may make a conscious effort to minimize energy consumption by making fewer tractor runs.
One of the most efficient systems, drip irrigation gives growers full control over the process. The grapes would get just the right amount of water, which promotes vine growth and results in better fruit. Measuring devices are installed around the vineyard to keep track of evapotranspiration, water depletion, and availability.
At the same time, growers keep a watchful eye over vine health and the irrigation system. They would be looking for clogs (in the irrigation) and tendrils, leaves, and shooting tips that ensure the vine is getting enough nutrients and water.
Most Eco-Friendly Wineries - The Top 12
1. Hamel Family Wines
Hamel Family Wines is among the newcomers in Sonoma. Opened in 2014, the winery dedicated to biodynamic and organic farming practices. The production facility features a living rooftop and special attention is paid to water conservation.
A lot of the grapes are dry-farmed, which means part of the vineyard relies solely on natural rainfall for irrigation. The ultimate goal at Hamel is to rely completely on dry farming in the near future.
They also created a large cave for wine storage. This allows the winery to store their wines at an optimal temperature and humidity naturally. This reduces overall energy costs and consumption while achieving their storage goals.
They also recycle water used during wine production. The water flows into a storage pond and is re-used for irrigation as needed.
The production volume is small, though vintages at Hamel Family are known for their rich floral notes and a good balance of sweetness and tannins. Should you visit the estate, make sure to try one of the bottles of cabernet sauvignon. For one, the 2014 Pamelita Reserve stands out.
Situated in St. Helena, Spottswoode Estate is a veteran of environmentally friendly winemaking. The winery adopted its organic practices more than 30 years ago and received its certification in the early 1990s. An interesting fact is that the estate and the winery are run by women.
With the experience, Spottswoode Estate is a top example of biodynamic practices. The alluvial clay soil is enriched by the presence of cover crops. The winery adopted composting and the lunar calendar for the farming cycle.
If you are wondering about the wines, the estate produces an interesting selection of white and red wines. It’s not easy to single any, but you may agree that the bottle of 2016 Lyndenhurst is a must, a cabernet sauvignon with notes of winter mint, chestnuts, and to a lesser extent, vanilla and cocoa.
No lists of biodynamic wineries in Sonoma would be complete without mentioning Benziger Family Winery. For almost twenty years, this winery has been at the fore of sustainable wine-making in Sonoma. But don’t take our word, go on a vineyard tour and see for yourself.
Any tour of the estate would aim to highlight the organic farm, where you may come across friendly sheep around the vineyard. It’d end with wine tasting at Benziger’s facility in Glen Ellen.
In addition, there are four other tour/tasting options. The duration, guest count, and wine on offer may vary from tour to tour and season to season. You may want to check out the winery’s full offer before you book a place.
Nestled in the picturesque Stag’s Leap district, Cliff Lede Vineyards offers an amazing blend of winemaking, architecture, and art. Since it first opened in 2001, the stylish tasting rooms have been drawing wine connoisseurs and dilettantes from around the country.
Visitors may enjoy drinking Cliff Lede’s wine on an outdoor patio. The backstage tasting room showcases the owner’s passion for rock music, including an exhibition of music artifacts and art pieces. Through it all, environmentally friendly wine-making doesn’t take a backseat.
Cliff Lede Vineyards uses recycled water for irrigation, a cave network for wine storage, and organic fertilizers for enriching the soil. The final results are bottles of pinot noir, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc that are unfailing at displaying a distinct flavor profile.
Medlock Ames Winery is a 100% organic estate that depends on solar power for most of the year. The property spans 338 acres with the vineyard taking up 15% of it. True to its sustainability pledge, the estate maintains wildlands and habitats of wildflowers and oaks.
Of course, you’ll be able to experience all of this yourself on the Bell Mountain tour. Stroll through the estate’s gardens, olive groves, and perhaps the vines, and make your way to the Alexander Valley tasting room, perhaps sooner than later.
The standouts include the bottles of 2016 Estate Red and 2018 Rosé. The former features a rich fruity profile with notes of licorice, sage, and black olives, and the latter more subtle with flavors of white peach, watermelon, and berry.
A visit to St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery with its magnificent garden may stick with you long after you’re back home. The garden serves as a backdrop for the outdoor tasting and hints at the winery’s dedication to eco-friendly practices.
For example, the estate runs on 80% solar energy and 100% reclaimed water. One-third of the property is dedicated to wine production and the rest biodiversity. St. Supéry also grows vegetables and fruits, which you can experience if you select the Veggies + Vino tasting.
Resident chef Britney Maureze makes all the snacks on offer from freshly-picked ingredients and pairs them with the estate’s sauvignon blanc or cabernet sauvignon. Of particular interest is the bottle of 2005 Rutherford Estate Vineyard cabernet sauvignon.
Anybody who has stepped into an American wine store must have seen or heard of Kendall-Jackson. With a production rate of over one million cases a year, Kendall-Jackson is among the biggest producers in California and the United States as a whole. But what most people may not know is that Kendall-Jackson is also into sustainable practices and organic farming.
For a start, the winery has been awarded the California Green Medal Leader and LEED Gold certification. The latter is for Kendall-Jackson's commitment to eco-friendly buildings and sustainable construction as further evidenced by the estate’s biodiversity, relatively low water consumption, and abundance of solar panels.
As for the wine, Kendall-Jackson’s offer is as wide as it gets. Both budget and high-brow wine drinkers may frequent the wine. There are 14 different varietals including acclaimed bottles of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel.
8. Cakebread Cellars
Located in Napa, Cakebread Cellars is a force to be reckoned with. One of the leaders in sustainable farming practices, the winery takes an innovative approach to eco-friendly production.
For its trouble, the estate received the 2018 California Green Medal award for cost-saving sustainability and business. Once you get to taste the wine, the effort and dedication are going to be apparent. There are a few different tastings/pairings to choose from, outdoor or indoor.
Cakebread Cellars also has an in-house garden that provides some of the ingredients for food and wine pairings. The vintages that are worth your attention include the 2015 Chardonnay Reserve and the 2014 Dancing Bear Ranch.
Ridge Vineyards has two locations, Santa Cruz County and Sonoma County, where it is the largest grower of organic grapes (both counties). In fact, over 300 acres of Ridge Vineyards are certified organic, and the producer is a participant in the Fish Friendly Farming program.
The production facility in Healdsburg, Sonoma, is constructed from clay and straw bales and mostly solar-powered. Ridge Vineyards prides itself on the conservative use of water and compost.
The tasting rooms are homey and designed to match the philosophy of sustainability. The bottles of 2017 Paso Robles Zinfandel and 2016 Monte Bello Chardonnay are among the highlights.
This estate is a merger of old and new Napa. Erected in 1886, the wooden winery and surrounded land were sold to the Trefethen family in the 1960s. It has been dedicated to producing estate-grown wine ever since.
Like most eco-conscious wineries, Trefethen is solar-powered and uses recycled water for irrigation. The natural pest control involves a resident barn owl and bat boxes that keep rodents and insects in check.
As you might expect, the winery produces a fine selection of red and white wines. You may agree that the Small Lot Wines should be your priority, the cabernet franc, malbec, and sauvignon blanc in particular.
11. Horse & Plow
The winery is situated amidst two acres of orchards and gardens in Sebastopol, Sonoma, but Horse & Plow’s vineyards are scattered all over Northern California in Mendocino County, Napa, and Sonoma. The winery works closely with the growers to ensure the highest eco-friendly standards.
Horse & Plow is certified biodynamic and organic, and the wines are completely natural and vegan-friendly, meaning they are low in sulfites and GMO-free. The cute tasting bar in Sonoma offers an intimate atmosphere for wine tasting – or for the signature cider if you will.
12. Cade Estate Winery
Located 1,800 feet up in the Oakville district, Cade Estate subscribes to the belief that a sustainable ecosystem yields superior wine. It is the first winery to receive the LEED Gold certification and the hosts are likely to share the winery’s environmentally friendly practices when you visit.
It’s not hard to guess everything is solar-powered, organic, and based on reclaimed materials. Enjoy the rich flavor profile of Cade’s red wines in the winery’s patio, indoor lounge, or terrace. Alternatively, you can also do that within the custom cave if you wish.
Apart from the 12 most environmentally friendly wineries in California as described above, there more wineries in that state that actively pursue organic production and certification. The benefits to the surroundings and ecosystem are obvious. But it’s not only about that. In the long run, the added effort may produce vintages that can run neck and neck with some of the best wines in the world.