The vineyards may be brown and dormant in winter, but some Napa Valley winemakers are preparing to invite locals to see their inner workings — and their touted commitment to greener practices.
Five wineries and the Napa Valley Vintners will host the inaugural Morning in the Winery, a learning and tasting event planned for Saturday, Jan. 11. Aimed primarily at Napa County residents, the program will feature free open houses where winery leaders will detail their steps to conserve electricity and water, reduce pollution, and make their wineries more sustainable indoors as well as out.
Along with showing local winemakers’ gains in sustainability, a Vintners spokeswoman said Morning in the Winery is meant to become a winter counterpart of the Vintners’ Afternoon in the Vineyards, a set of springtime tours showcasing grapegrowing and winemaking techniques.
“It’s something we’ve thought of doing for some time,” Michelle Novi, the Vintners’ industry relations manager, said. “We’ve done Afternoon in the Vineyards for 13 years, and the idea here was to do something similar, but focus on the winemaking facilities. It made the most sense to do this during a slow season to connect our residents with their nearby wineries, encourage them to bring their friends and family to visit.”
“It’s a draw for locals, a way to get them into our wineries and answer their questions on what we do and how we interact with the community,” said winemaker Cameron Parry of Chateau Montelena in Calistoga, one of the participating wineries. “Plus, we make some mighty fine juice.”
The Morning in the Winery hosts — Trefethen Family Vineyards, Domaine Chandon, St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, Peju and Chateau Montelena — all are members of the Napa Green Certified Winery program. Begun in 2008, the certification program calls for various practices to prevent pollution, increase the diversion of solid waste, and cut the use of water and energy.
At Trefethen Family Vineyards north of Napa, Jon Ruel, winemaking and viticulture director, said his focus is on helping the winery’s grounds take as few outside resources as possible.
“I have an ecology background, and I think of our property as a vineyard ecosystem,” he said of the Trefethen site, which recycles its water and switched to 100 percent solar power at the beginning of 2013. “We can make it more sustainable by making it take care of itself more.”
Joel Burt, winemaker for Chandon in Yountville, hoped to point visitors not only to the winery’s broad efficiency measures like wastewater recycling and centrifuges using less energy, but also to smaller and easy-to-overlook steps to reduce waste.
Even the capping of the winery’s famous sparkling-wine bottles, he said, has seen a recent redesign. New equipment separates the bidules — the plastic sleeves inside the metal cap that catch yeast from fermentation — from the caps, allowing both to be recycled for the first time.
The same range of large and small efficiencies also will be on display at Chateau Montelena, according to Matt Crafton, assistant winemaker at the Calistoga estate. Solar panels installed in 2006 cover about 95 percent of Montelena’s power needs, and an overhaul of its winemaking building in 2011 included a tank chilling system that diverts waste heat to the winery’s water heating system, preheating water and cutting its energy usage.
But the scope of the winery’s push for efficiency goes beyond solar panels and other fixtures readily seen by the public, Crafton said. Montelena has moved in-house documents onto iPads to eliminate most paper use, sourced all its bottles from North America to eliminate fuel costs from overseas shipping, and installed high-efficiency lighting inside its winemaking operation, he said.
“It’s cool to show off massive solar panels, but personally, I geek out when I see a 3-watt LED that replaces a 75-watt incandescent bulb,” said Crafton. “That’s huge. It’s really exciting to stay on the forefront on these things.”