Sonoma County, land of rolling hills, rugged coastlines, beautiful landscapes and seventeen unique AVA’s, is world-renowned for its prestigious, high quality wines, but a lesser known fact is its commitment to sustainable farming. The principal values to sustainable farming are preserving and maintaining the land for future generations. In 2014 the Sonoma County Winegrowers made a commitment to be the first in the nation to be 100% sustainable by 2019. Wine drinkers will soon be able to purchase prestigious Sonoma wines with full confidence that the wine in their glass was made using sustainable wine growing practices.
Last week I had the opportunity to meet Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, an organization representing 1,800 winegrowers throughout Sonoma County. Along with Karissa, present was Sean Carroll, director of Marketing and Communications. Throughout the evening, it was clearly evident from Karissa and Sean that sustainability is a passion that is rooted in the culture of Sonoma growers. Karissa says, “It is a story about families who run farms, about stewardship, about the love of the land, about caring for each other, our neighbors, our employees and about giving back to this great place we call home.” Many of Sonoma’s wine growers have been practicing sustainable farming techniques for decades. Sonoma has a deep-rooted heritage among its winegrowers of maintaining and preserving the land and ensuring that their wines are of highest quality for now and for the future.
The huge push towards 100% sustainability by 2019 was first formalized in 2014. The strategy towards 100% sustainability is being implemented in three phases. The first phase helps growers assess their wine growing practices and helps to educate and train. The first phase helps farmers look at canopy management, pesticide control, water quality assessment, carbon emissions, and healthcare and training of employees. In addition it will examine up to 200 sustainability variables. In the second phase the Sonoma County Winegrowers will work with the farmers to help achieve certification. The third and final phase will involve assessment of sustainability and then awarding certifications. At the end of 2016, 60% of the vineyards acres were certified sustainable by a third-party audit, with a goal of 100% certified sustainable by 2019. Transparency and communication has been key to their rapid progress and success. Sonoma County Winegrowers release their reports cards with full disclosure on an annual basis.
In addition the organization recently announced the formation of the Sonoma County Center for Ag Sustainability. The center is designed to be a think tank to support ideas and strategies to help implement Sonoma’s sustainability efforts and its 100 year business plan to preserve and maintain agriculture. The think tank will bring together experts in the industry to collaborate, exchange and brainstorm ideas for Sonoma’s sustainable farming efforts. Experts in the industry from professionals to academics will come together to collaborate and think out of the box to help preserve local agriculture.
Sonoma is one of the oldest wine growing region in the United States, with vines dating back to the 1820’s. The county boasts close to 60,000 acres planted to grapes, producing 6% of California’s wine. Sonoma offers something for every palate with 66 grape varietals planted, though Chardonnay and Pinot Noir dominate.
During our dinner with the Sonoma County Winegrowers, we had the opportunity to drink a selection of great sustainably farmed and produced Sonoma County wines. Below you will find my tasting notes. The wines were a perfect sampling of the many expressions of Sonoma’s soil, land climate and history.
- Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, Sonoma County $22 – Made from classic Sonoma grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This Brut is wonderfully elegant with notes of pear, apple and citrus. The bubbles offer persistent effervescent. This versatile bubbly is great as an aperitif or paired with your favorite dishes.
- Rubin Family Wines’ Pamela’s Chardonnay Un-Oaked 2014, Sonoma County – $16 – This un-oaked Chardonnay is fermented 100% in stainless steel. This wine is a classic everyday Chardonnay with notes of apple, honey, apricot and spice. The wine is fresh with lively acidity, perfect with shrimp, sole or a summer salad.
- Keller Estate La Cruz Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast – $45 – This luscious full-bodied Chardonnay has floral notes, with honey, vanilla, apple and mango on the palate. It has a creamy long lingering finish with bright acidity.
- Argot Wines Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Mountain – $70 – This artisan label is a bigger style Pinot that has wonderful notes of cherries, raspberries and exotic spice with mouth puckering acidity. This intense wine has beautiful structure and soft smooth silky tannins.
- Dutton Estate Karmen Isabella Pinot Noir, Dutton Ranch Vineyards 2013, Russian River Valley – $45 – This Pinot Noir is soft and feminine and has notes of cherries, plum and delicate spice. There is an earthy quality on the finish with silky supple tannins and bright acidity.
- Hafner Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley $180 – This complex wine was a beautiful expression of how well Sonoma wines age and evolve. The 2007 had dark fruit, chocolate and deep complexity. Still prominent fruit and tannins on the palate though much more rounder and elegant on the finish compared to the 2012, purely a function of time in the bottle.
- Hafner Vineyards 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – $45 – Compared to the 2007 this wine was young and youthful with notes of blackberries, raspberries, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla on the palate. The tannins are firm and the finish is long and lingering.
- Ravenswood Zinfandel 2013, Teldeschi Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley – $45 – This ancient vine Zin was extremely special, made from old vines dating back to 1913. This sleek, zesty wine is a blend of Zinfandel(75%) combined with Petite Sirah and Carignane. This Zin is a medium body wine with rich blueberries, blackberries and black pepper on the palate. The wine is extremely versatile and will pair deliciously with foods like steak and lamb.