Sustainable Practices Archives - V. Sattui Winery

Climate Change & The Future of Farming

Shifting Climate, Extreme Weather, Wildfires, Demand for Housing, Water Scarcity and Drought

One of my favorite quotes about farming comes from a fellow grape farmer and good friend, Stu Smith of Smith Madrone Vineyards on Spring Mountain, nearly 2,000 feet above the valley floor.

Stu says, “Being a farmer, you have to be an eternal optimist but at the same time you have to be an eternal pessimist. So, it is these two emotions that are driving you, and in conflict within you, that you have to live with.”

 

When visiting with guests at the winery, I find myself complaining about the du jour weather-related factors affecting the crop.  Perhaps complaining about weather is part of the DNA of a farmer, and there is good reason for this, as weather plays such an important part in the growing of grapes and resulting wine quantity and quality.  The frustration that plagues farmers is that weather is out of our control, and this is mostly true, but not completely.  More about this later.  For now, let’s discuss what is happening with climate in the Napa Valley and other extreme weather and economic conditions.

The planet is getting warmer.

The last 7 years have been the warmest since record keeping and 2020 tied for the hottest year on record.  In North America, June 2020 was the hottest month on record.  Andrew Isaacs, Professor of Technology Programs, Haas School of Business, Berkeley, and former Senior Scientist at NASA, says climate is travelling at 1 km per year in the Napa Valley.

What does this mean?

It means that each year, as you drive from south to north in the Napa Valley (Napa towards Calistoga) the weather is getting slightly warmer.  It is not a perfectly linear as you move north, as individual sites vary in temperature depending on orientation and site specifics, but in general it is a good description of what is happening with the climate.  This data is important, in that specific varieties do best when matched to the ideal growing conditions, which considers mean degree days of heat.   Could this mean that one day the Carneros region, best known for cooler conditions that favor Chardonnay and Pinot, could be better suited to warmer varieties like Cabernet and Zinfandel?
Could Rutherford and St. Helena become too warm for Cabernet?  Yes. 
High-quality wine grapes are naturally adaptable to heat stress if managed correctly, as grapes like to grow in a warm, Mediterranean climate, but at extreme temperatures, heat can cause grapes to shrivel and turn to raisins.

Wildfires and resulting smoke damage to grapes and resulting wines have affected every vineyard and vintner in the Napa Valley.  Virtually no Cabernet Sauvignon will be made from Napa Valley grapes in 2020 because of smoke damage from the wildfires.  Estimated economic damage from just the 2020 wildfire season to the Napa Valley wine industry alone is estimated to be more than $2 billion.  With a warming planet, it is easy to become pessimistic regarding our predicament, as a quick fix is not possible.

I believe the biggest threat to our livelihoods as wine growers is water scarcity.

 

For the first time in my 41-year career in the industry, we ran out of water at two of our ranches in the Napa Valley and had to truck re-claimed and municipal water, at an expense approaching $250,000, just to save two-thirds of our crop. Some farmers dropped all their fruit and used the little water they had just to keep the vines alive (vines carrying a crop require more water).  Grapes  are plants and need water, especially when they are young and root systems are not established. Drought in California is nothing new and we have made excellent wine in drought years, but limited water is not the same as being out of water.

The future of farming in Napa is further endangered by state-mandated housing requirements that are spilling beyond our cities and threatening the once sacred agricultural boundary lines. McMansions, huge 10,000 square foot+ homes with large outdoor entertainment spaces, are encroaching on valuable Ag lands – reducing future vineyard plantings. Additionally, it is becoming nearly impossible to plant new vineyards on lands zoned for agriculture, as the cost and time of conducting environmental studies and obtaining the necessary state and local permits required to  plant a vineyard favors only the very wealthy.

It is becoming evident that one of the most famous and desirable locations in the world to grow world-class wine is in jeopardy of its existence.

 

What can we do?

 

1. DROUGHT TOLERANCE

❉ Vines and cover crops that are planted between the vine rows compete for water during the growing season. During drought years, we disk between the rows during the growing year to eliminate the competition, giving all the available moisture in the soil to the vines.

❉ Redeveloping our trellis systems to provide more shade for the fruit during the hot summer days.

❉ Dry-farming vineyards, that is farmed without irrigation, as was done in the early days of the Napa Valley.  Once vines are established, it is possible that some vineyard sites have water sources  down deep, and eventually the roots find these sources, as deep as 50 feet for more. Our Dry Creek, School House Old-Vine Zinfandel is completely farmed without adding irrigated water. These  old vines found an underground spring of School House Creek!

❉ When we redevelop or plant a new vineyard, we search out rootstocks that are drought-resistant, and can survive with less water.

❉ We have begun working with a partner that has developed an irrigation model through extensive research in both California and France that pinpoints the best time to water that will accelerate vine growth early in spring and push fruit to an earlier ripening that would improve fruit quality and quicken harvest by nearly 30 days, while minimizing the risk of smoke taint from wildfires that typically happen in late Fall.

2.  REDUCING OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT

Anytime we reduce tractor passes in a vineyard, we reduce CO2 released into our atmosphere. Electric tractors have already made an appearance in the Napa Valley, but more work needs to be done to improve performance.  Vineyards are naturally a carbon sink, in that carbon is reduced over time by farming as compared to development and housing.

Back in 2007, we installed solar on the roof of our wine warehouse and plans are underway to install more throughout the property.

3.  FIRE MITIGATION

Here, we are making great strides. Industry groups such as Napa Valley Grapegrowers are leading the charge to help farmers with best practices to mitigate fire losses.

❉ What hurt most in the 2017 and 2020 wildfires was that we were not prepared and relied too heavily on firefighters that were stretched to nearly the breaking point, as fires raged throughout the state.

❉ We are a strong agricultural community where grapes have been grown for more than 150 years. We have survived floods, earthquakes, Prohibition, and numerous other disasters.

❉ Climate change, wildfires, economic threats, and water scarcity are all worthy adversaries, and will challenge us, but will not beat us.

We have too much at stake

to give up on the bounty and beauty of this magnificent valley. As farmers and eternal optimists, we believe next year’s harvest will be the best ever!

 

 

 

 

Tom C. Davies
President


Did you know there is an island of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean three times the size of France?

8,000,000 metric tons of discarded plastic finds its way into the ocean EVERY YEAR. That is the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.  Plastic production rose from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448,000,000 million tons in 2015. Production is expected to double to 896,000,000 tons by 2050. Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.  Plastic has a very long life. It contains additives which makes it unable to break down for 400 years or more. Today, landfills are overflowing with waste plastic. China is now refusing to take our unwanted plastic to its country as it did several years ago.

Plastic “trash” is killing sea life and birds and poisoning our food and water supplies. “If plastic production isn’t curbed, plastic pollution will outweigh fish pound per pound by 2050,” declares World Economic Forum Report.  THIS IS AN ALARMING PROBLEM.

Action is required. It is in this spirit I have invested in a company called Resynergi of Santa Rosa, California, which will take most discarded plastic and turn it into energy or chemicals for making new virgin plastics without harming the environment.  This process is called CMAP, Continuous Microwave Assisted Pyrolysis. Discarded plastic is collected and heat of 1000 degrees Fahrenheit is applied – in an oxygen free environment – causing the solid material to form a gas. The gas is cooled into a liquid product (fuel) or made into new plastic.

Holistic Sustainability at V. Sattui

Holistic Sustainability for Generations to Come

Spring in wine country is always a time of renewal and rebirth. A time to bask in the beauty of bud break and welcome a new vintage to the world. Wine Country is truly in bloom once again and it never felt so reassuring.  However, if the trends of the past few years have taught us anything at all, it is that this precious land and the industry that sustains it cannot be taken for granted.

At V. Sattui Winery, we are dedicated to doing our best to ensure the prosperity and sustainability of the Napa Valley for generations to come. From the soil to vine and every hand that plays a part in crafting our wines to the guests and tourists that keep our community vibrant and thriving – each plays an integral part in ensuring the wine industry remains viable for the future. For this reason, we take a holistic approach to sustainability.

V. Sattui Winery President Tom Davies is a true champion for the philosophy of holistic sustainability; constantly seeking new ways to improve the well-being of our employees, partners, vineyards, and surrounding environment.

“Sustainability goes far beyond the land. It is our livelihoods. It is about caring for employees, vendors — everyone tied to the company. Our approach in ensuring the health and vitality of the wine industry takes all of this into account. We care for the land and we care for the community.”  – V. Sattui President Tom Davies.

As a board member for both Visit Napa Valley and Napa Valley Grape Growers Association, a steering committee member for Coalition Napa Valley and even a member of the Wildfire Task Force, Tom works closely with all branches of V. Sattui Winery – from our vineyard managers and crew to our winemaking and sales teams to ensure that we preserve, protect and nurture on all fronts. With a finger on the pulse of social and environmental challenges, including the warming climate here in wine country, we strive to be part of the solution.

Sustainable Farming Practices

Some of our long-running programs include sustainable farming practices at all our estates and vineyard sources ranging from CCFO Certified Organic farming at Vittorio’s Vineyard to Fish Friendly Farming (FFF) Sustainable Certifications. Both the CCFO and FFF certification programs require rigorous qualification processes that can take up to three years – including third-party audits of all inputs and vineyard practices to ensure the use of organic-only additions as applicable (CCFO) and minimal impact to the surrounding environment and wildlife by way of strategic input application (night spraying and erosion control) as well as ongoing monitoring and recertification. Additionally, we have a robust recycling program that includes but is not limited to composting our own grape pumice and reintroducing it to our vineyards after a year, ensuring even the skins and seeds of our grapes nurture our land rather than go to waste.

To address the longer, hotter growing conditions experienced in recent years, we have tested and implemented modified (V-shaped) vertical shoot trellising at several locations to manage our vineyard canopy allowing ample airflow and preventing mildew naturally while ensuring both adequate sun for ripening as well as sufficient shade to protect our fruit from sunburn. Blocks at Vittorio’s Vineyard, Mt. Veeder and Hibbard Ranch have been converted so far with more to come.

In addition, water resources are being carefully monitored. With 2021 marking the earliest need to irrigate according to the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association, we are exploring avenues to reduce our water consumption in the future including additional dry farming and even removing cover crop early to ensure our vines can utilize every available drop of H2O.

Again, we believe our responsibility extends beyond owl boxes, organic inputs, and water management. Holistic sustainability includes a commitment to supporting our employees and surrounding community to ensure the wine industry thrives for years to come.

An initiative we are deeply committed to is our employee housing program. At present, we have three vineyard workers and their families housed between Carsi Vineyard and Hibbard Ranch as well as H-2A housing for seasonal farmworkers at our Solano property – currently housing 8-10 migrant farmworkers with H-2A Visas. Safe, ample housing for both full-time and temporary migrant farmworkers is vital to our business and we hope to expand upon this program and offer more housing in the coming years.

Napa Valley Forward

Following through on our commitment to sustainability in our community, we are proud to be a part of the pilot program for Napa Valley Forward. First launched in March of 2020, this progressive initiative seeks to reduce road congestion and CO2 emissions in Napa Valley by offering commuting alternatives for our workforce. 40% of all trips in and out of Napa Valley have been identified as commuters to wineries and wine-related businesses and in partnership with Napa Valley Forward and the other 19 businesses that have signed on for the pilot program running through 2022 – we have already saved more than 136,000 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere by connecting employees with alternative modes of transportation from public transit to carpooling, to biking – even telecommuting! Although the Covid-19 pandemic slowed the rollout of this unique program, as restrictions are lifting, Napa Valley Forward’s mission is moving forward once more and we are excited to see our employees take advantage of this special program which offers incredible benefits — from reward incentives and savings on gas and resources to cleaner air for the community and more room on the road for our tourists whose visitation to our wineries, restaurants, shops, and hotels keep our valley thriving.

Finally, V. Sattui Winery is thrilled to have pledged $50,000 annually to the Napa Valley Vine Trail over the next 10 years to help extend the trail from Yountville to St. Helena. This endeavor has many benefits to both the community and tourism, while also promoting a healthy lifestyle and relieving traffic congestion and pollution.  This project is near and dear to our hearts — celebrating the philosophy of holistic sustainability to a T by promoting community health; offering a free, safe, easy access trail system that can be enjoyed by bike or on foot, connecting all of Napa Valley for car-free commuting, lowering our carbon footprint, preserving nature, encouraging eco-tourism – bringing an expected $165+ million annually to Napa Valley’s economy once completed.

At V. Sattui Winery, we are devoted to being responsible stewards of the land, committed to providing resources and opportunities for our employees and dedicated caretakers of our community.  With ever-evolving challenges both socially and environmentally – holistic sustainability is the key to preserving the wine industry and Napa Valley for the future – and we are proud to be part of the solution.

V. Sattui Gives Back

Giving back to our community is one of our greatest pleasures at V. Sattui Winery. We believe leadership is a responsibility and this gives us great purpose. We give back not only to the Napa Valley community, but also to our team members who we consider family.

Caring for the Land

Napa Valley is known for its rural and agricultural land on which world-class grapes are grown. We work tirelessly alongside the Napa County Agricultural Reserve to preserve the land of the valley because without it, Napa would lose its identity. We have protected nearly 600 acres of land through conservation easements to ensure that the land is protected from commercial and residential development. We are taking a stand for our community because we couldn’t do what we do without it. Our long-term goal is to have all of our land, totaling about 1,000 acres, to be protected for generations to come. Here is how you can help preserve the beautiful Napa Valley with us.

Children Are the Future

In 2007, we teamed up with the Napa Valley Vintners’ Adopt-A-School program. We are fortunate enough, and take great pride in, sponsoring 8th graders at Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS) Middle School. With education being one of our core values, we focus on the impact we strive to have by teaching core subjects at the winery for a day, along with introducing them to the science of winemaking. We also introduce mathematical applications in business and language arts as it applies to consumers and employees. Our mission is to shape the future of business and what that looks like to the young students of our community. It’s a privilege and rewarding to see our efforts come full circle when we hire new team members who are alumni of the St. Helena Unified School District.

rls-middle-school

Impactful Helping Hands

If you have ever visited our picnic grounds, you probably are familiar with the picnic pack. We owe a lot to the dedicated students of the Napa Valley Unified School District Post-Secondary Project, who take the time in crafting our “Green Picnic Pack.” Our biggest desire is to support these students with pre-employment skills when transitioning from high school to work, and we are honored to call them part of our V. Sattui family. Next time you purchase a picnic pack, know you are also supporting these students which helps all of us make one overarching positive difference in the world.

picnic-pack

Meals on Wheels

The most recent project we are proud to take part in is the purchase of a new food delivery truck. We collaborated with our sister winery, Castello di Amorosa, to transport daily meals to the senior citizens of our community who can no longer drive, but wish to still live alone. The volunteers of the Napa Valley Meals on Wheels program deliver over 400 meals daily throughout the valley. We are giving back to those who have given so much to us as long-time residents and local business supporters in our hometown.

Giving Back is Who We Are

There are many ways we aim to give back and be a leader in our community. We will continue to do so because this is the foundation on which our business was built. Dario Sattui couldn’t have said it better: “Giving, without expectation of anything in return other than the pure enjoyment and satisfaction of helping someone or a cause, is a great feeling. Together, we can make a difference.”

 

Preserving Napa Valley in Partnership with the Land Trust of Napa County

Taking care of the land we farm and preserving its beauty and abundance is one of our core values at V. Sattui and for owner, Dario Sattui.   The stewardship of the lands that V. Sattui farms in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Solano Counties is the recognition of our collective responsibility.

Dario’s most recent conservation effort comes by way of a 40-acre donation to the Land Trust of Napa County, an organization that was established in 1976 to preserve the character of Napa County by permanently protecting land.  This conservation easement, combined with four others over the last 18 years brings Dario’s total contribution to nearly 600 acres.

Coombsville photoThe property is located in the Coombsville hills, overlooking the City of Napa.  It is preserved through the partnership between Dario and the Land Trust. It’s natural and agricultural values are protected forever while the land is maintained in private ownership.

This conservation effort is especially important in Coombsville – where land development including vineyards, homes and wineries has been substantial in recent years. Home to Kreuse Creek, dense woodland and abundant wildlife, the property is visible from parts of the City of Napa, Silverado Trail and Skyline Park. Significant scenic enjoyment has been preserved for generations to come.

“Sadly I have seen tremendous development in the 44 years I have lived in Napa County,” said Dario Sattui. “I wish to be part of the solution by protecting all our properties with easements with the Land Trust. It gives me great pleasure to continue with my pledge.”

The Coombsville conservation easement joins Carsi Vineyard, the historic Hibbard Ranch (Formerly Henry Ranch) and our Certified Organic home vineyard – Vittorio’s Estate – named for Dario’s great-grandfather who first established V. Sattui winery in 1885.

“Five conservation easements is a lot,” said Doug Parker, CEO of the Land Trust. “And they have all gone smoothly with Dario. He is giving up significant value in this easement, eliminating the potential for both a winery and a residence, and we very much appreciate his generosity.”