The general concept of sustainability is a complex subject, often touching on issues of environmental health, economic profitability and social and economic equity. It is a reality to be reckoned with in many industries and by the potentially global nature of its reach, in one way or another will affect all 6 billion people on the planet.
In the world of winemaking today, sustainable farming is an increasingly popular practice, though not yet universal. To many, it is a new field. But we are quite familiar with it. For decades, farming sustainably has played an essential role in Chateau Montelena's modern history, supporting our goal to achieve excellence in winemaking. We are proud to say that, and we would like to share our views on this important topic with you.
Sustainable farming is our modus operandi, and consists of natural practices designed to maintain a healthy balance in the vineyard. Vineyard Manager Dave Vella says, "It begins and ends with the health of the soil, achieving and maintaining balance in nutrients, minerals, and microbial life. The ideal result is a healthy grapevine with controllable vigor." While this may be the objective of anyone who farms wine grapes, the difference is how and how long, we have gone about accomplishing this.
Many of the vineyard blocks turned over to Dave and which we farm today, had been replanted in the early 1970s, when owner Jim Barrett acquired and revitalized the Estate. Their sheer productive longevity in delivering grapes that could be transformed into world class wines, year after year, bears testament to how successfully they are farmed.
We have learned that paying attention pays off. Throughout each year - together, Dave and Winemaker Bo Barrett have spent 67 years on the Estate - we test and profile each block to track its vine-growing capabilities. "Feed the soil, feed the plant," says Dave. But since Montelena Estate is a complex system, no one solution will work everywhere.
For example, nutrient levels and water holding capacity vary greatly among the three soil origins that comprise the Estate vineyard: volcanic, alluvial, and sedimentary. These areas are, in turn, crisscrossed by 5 different classified soil types: Bale, Cole, Cortina, Pleasanton, and Kidd. Add a topographic variation, like an elevated hillside or a level valley floor location, and you have a three-dimensional decision matrix. Once we understand each particular site, we can proceed to sustainable grape growing.
At the most basic level, wine grape growing consists of plant nourishment and protection from disease and pests. Our sustainable farming protocol calls for avoidance of any chemical fertilizers. We use a mixture of chicken manure and compost made with the previous season's pomace - seeds, stems and grape skins left after crushing. We use ladybugs to combat unwanted pests, and a French plow to keep the vineyard clean and free from weeds.
We also analyze our soils to determine if there are areas that need application of minerals and nutrients. Even here we do it in a natural way. One example is by planting clover, which is a very effective nitrogen-fixing plant species that can replenish this essential element. Canopy management and organic fungicide application help us control mildew. Mowing and tilling plants underground in the late spring reintroduces organic matter to the soil. Even the compound we apply to roads that intersect our vineyard blocks, in order to control dust, is an environmentally neutral, non-toxic substance.
Water management at Montelena Estate is critical, considering both our responsibility to conserve where possible and also to optimize plant health. We utilize deficit irrigation methods, watering new vines to get them established, or replenishing water to vines that show signs of undue stress during heat events (It is okay to stress a vine with water, but not with nutrients). Finally, our conversion to 100% solar power in 2007 represented a major commitment to working with the assets that Mother Nature provides us - in this case, sunlight - in order to be self-sustaining.
We constantly experiment to discover improvements in the vineyard. New rootstock and clonal selections, closer vine and row spacing and vertical trellising systems have all emerged from these efforts. We have learned from experience that achieving excellence in the vineyard will lead to excellence in the bottle.
Built to barrel age wine, previously done in the Chateau's cellar, this extensive tunnel system covers 25,000 square feet of area and provides ample room for 4,000 barrels.
Fish Friendly Farming® provides for voluntary, self-directed compliance with the rigorous standards of state and federal water quality laws, the Federal Endangered Species Act, and state pesticide laws as well as local regulations.
Napa Green Certified Winery is a Napa-specific set of sustainable and green business practices developed for wineries.