Sterling Vineyards’ Environmental and Social Initiatives, pt. 1

Ξ July 28th, 2009 | → 3 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Technology, Winemakers, Wineries |

Sterling Vineyards has a great deal to say. Through a growing series of green and philanthropic initiatives involving everything from waste recycling to restoration of riparian habitats, from water recycling to the conversion to solar power of their celebrated tram, from using organically grown grapes to donations to Napa families in need and monies for land preservation, all that I have read and heard tells me Sterling Vineyards has made very impressive gains.
The Wine Bloggers Conference organizers are to be praised, as well as the other associated wineries and organizations, for bringing the Napa and Sonomas’ collective response to environmental and social issues to the forefront. For me personally it is a far more important collection of nested concerns that the latest release. Indeed, among the first questions I ask when making a wine purchase is where my dollars are going? In whom and what am I investing? What behaviors am I rewarding? I spend extra for organic tomatoes; I go out of my way to purchase Fair Trade coffee; I buy from local and socially responsible stores, those that pay a living wage and provide health care for their employees. Why should wine be approached differently? I am pleased to report Sterling Vineyards passes muster. And the best news is that they are not alone, far from it, among Napa and Sonoma producers as I trust fellow bloggers will report from their winery visits.
As I wrote in an earlier piece we departed on one of eight randomly chosen busses for winery destinations. The first stop on our tour was Sterling Vineyards where our group was to meet the charming Alison Crary, described, in part, in a bio provided on a flash drive as the following:
As Associate Winemaker for red varietals at Sterling Vineyards, Alison Crary is able to fully indulge her curiosity about Napa’s most prominent grapes and the terroir within which they grow. In close concert with Mike Westrick, Senior Vice President of Winemaking at Sterling, Alison has the opportunity to harvest over 200 vineyard blocks within Napa County, and to evaluate the wines made from those sites year after year. Working with varietals as diverse as Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, Mourvedre and Merlot, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot, Alison takes great joy in expanding the breadth of her experience, and exploring the ever-evolving world of wine.
What follows is a partial, edited transcript of a ‘wild’ recording of her remarks as we lunched and toured a limited portion of the impressive winery and grounds. Part 2 will appear early next week.
So how many of you are familiar with Napa Green Certified Land? We’ve got a couple back there, excellent. Are there any experts? Couple more… couple more. Wonderful. And the name Fish Friendly Farming? O.K. Great. So you guys are going to do the rest of the talk, and I’m going to sit down and eat! (laughter) Just kidding.
Sterling is a member of Napa Green Certified Land. We are aiming for certification. We are currently 80% of the way there, which for us is a pretty big undertaking because we have over 1000 acres of estate vineyards. When you think about the fact that right now there are just over 30,000 acres of land in Napa County that are enrolled in Napa Green, and 15,000 of those acres are planted to vine, the fact that we have 800 acres already certified, and we’re about to certify the last 200, we make up a 1000 of that 15,000 acres that have been certified. I’m very proud of that fact.
We’ve been working toward [full] certification for the last couple of years.
Fish Friendly Farming and Napa Green basically center on the idea of preserving soil and preserving and restoing watersheds. For a winemaker, you know, this is a really important thing. These are two of the biggest resources. I need great water and I need to hold on to my wonderful soil that grows my terrific grapes. So it is, of course, in our interest as well to make sure that we preserve these two extremely valuable resources.
We go into our vineyards, like down at Winery Lake, we go in, we restore any watersheds that have seen damage in the past. We’ve been working on this restoration at Winery Lake [vineyard] for two decades. The work that we did twenty years ago at Winery Lake, we’ve basically gone and rolled through the rest of our estate vineyards to make sure the habitat stays friendly to fish, that we are able to nurture and plant native species like Western Dogwood, California Rose, yarrow… some of these plants will keep the sol where we want it and not in our streams during the rainy season. So that’s part of Fish Friendly Farming.
We’re also very committed to making sure we keep our dust levels down in the vineyard, that we do so with sustainable means. Right now we’re using a sugar polymer that we put on our vineyard paths throughout these 1000 acres of estate vineyards to make sure we keep the dust down and that we keep any of the sediment from going off into our streams an rivers providing better environments for the fish fry and for local salmon.
Everyday that I drive to work I feel very fortunate. [....] Everybody in the valley is extremely motivated to keep it as beautiful as it has been and will be. We are not alone. We do make up a lot of those certified grape lands. But we also have a lot of partners through the Napa Valley Vintners. And we have a lot of people here who are striving for the same preservation. We will continue it until we see full certification.
In addition to the Napa Valley Green Program we also just became a newly minted Napa Valley Green Winery. It happened this April. We were one of the first twelve in the entire valley.
From the flash drive, a piece titled Sterling Vineyards Is Certifiable Green.
Founded in 2007, Napa Green Certified Winery was developed by the Napa Valley Vintners in coordination with the Napa County Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and is based on the Association of Bay Area Government’s (ABAG) Green Business Program as a model due to its consistent, credible and recognized program with a long track record. ABAG’s winery-specific checklist was updated and adopted as the certification method for Napa Green Certified Winery because it puts all the regulatory pieces into a comprehensive format that goes beyond compliance. The checklist includes water conservation, energy conservation, pollution prevention, and solid waste reduction elements.
We have done a number of things over the last few years to make sure… well, we were actually, we were headed for certification before there was a certification (laughs), to be quite honest, because a lot of these projects were started several years ago. What I’m talking about would be night air cooling of all of our facilities. We live in an environment where we have during the summertime a 50 degree fahrenheit diurnal variation. Last week,for instance, we had a number of days when it was 49 degrees at night and 99 degrees during the middle of the day. We have sensors on all our air intake vents that blow at a certain temperature and bring that cool air in, and it will shut off at warmer temperatures so we can naturally cool our entire facility.
We also have this year 4 ten hour working days which right there cuts off 20% of our energy usage and also water usage, because if you only have to sanitize your winery 4 days a week rather than 5 that’s a huge savings in terms of water.
We’ve also been recently been recognized for our waste reduction. For a facility like this I am extremely proud to say that we have diverted, or have been able to divert in the last two years 95% of the waste that is generated on site. We’ve been able to keep it out of landfills. We compost all of our pomace. We recycle everything we can, down to little, tiny batteries to small boxes we reuse; any materials that are recyclable, we collect them and move them out through the proper channels. A 95% waste reduction has added up to a diversion of over 1,400 tons of material every year. Fourteen hundred tons! That’s what we’re keeping out of the waste stream every year.
And water conservation? How many here are from California? What you may not know is that we are in the third year of a drought. I was lucky enough to move to California in a non-drought year and I didn’t really understand what all the griping and moaning was about, now I understand it. I get it. It is extremely dry out here. And water is a very, very hot commodity. Our governor, this Spring, challenged all Californians to reduce their water usage by 20%. Well, we just christened a water processing unit, and I’m about to totally geek out on you here, warning! Winemaker goes geeky on you! But this is a fascinating piece of machinery, something called a membrane bioreactor. We’ve installed either the second or the third one in the county. We just christened it this Spring. What this is going to allow us to do… UC Davis has put out a statistic that it takes one to four gallons of water to make one gallon of wine. That’s a huge water usage. This membrane bioreactor will allow us to recycle and reuse 50% of the water we use on this site. Fifty percent for us is a pretty big number, it’s three and a half-million gallons in one year.
In addition to the use of organically grown grapes in some of our bottlings, we’ve also made strides in our packaging of these wines. Our labels are 30% post-consumer recycled paper, only using soy inks. We are a member of One Percent For the Planet. It is a group of businesses who’ve come together and said they will donate one percent of their proceeds to furthering environmental protection around the planet. We’ve donate $50,000 so far. That’s just in our first year. We’re very proud of that partnership.
And we’re very proud of the wines, too! (laughter)
I am a big gardener, and one of the fringe benefits of our membrane bioreactor is that we get to use the compost that comes out for our community garden here at Sterling. [The garden] is growing like gangbusters right now. So I was having a little squash, a little zucchini, out of that garden, just sautéed with some butter, salt and pepper; throw a little of that on some angel hair pasta and crack open an organic Sterling Sauvignon Blanc, there’s dinner! (laughs)
End of part 1
Part 2 may be read here.
Great thanks to Alison Crary and Sterling for their generosity.


3 Responses to ' Sterling Vineyards’ Environmental and Social Initiatives, pt. 1 '

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  1. Elliott said,

    on July 28th, 2009 at 2:29 pm


    Great post. I am writing on behalf of, a 1% For the Planet-approved nonprofit organization that helps bands Green their tours while educating and engaging fans to do the same.

    We would love to touch base with you about some of the upcoming music tour opportunities where we might be able to team up!



  2. Amelia Ceja said,

    on July 31st, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Hello Ken,
    It was so nice meeting you at the Wine Bloggers dinner last Saturday at Pine Ridge – thank you for posting my photo with Joe Roberts – I had a great time. And, thank you for writing our Ceja Vineyards story on your blog a few months ago – you have an open invitation to visit Ceja Vineyards in our beloved Carneros in the Napa Valley anytime!

  3. Administrator said,

    on August 1st, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Amelia! It was a thrill to at last meet you. I will be visiting before the end of the Summer. I have some ideas for Salud Napa I want to discuss with Ariel. Maybe we can cook something together!

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