Most of us separate our trash into at least three separate receptacles; some of us compost; we don’t let the water run while brushing our teeth; and more of us are printing on both sides of our paper today. We are consciously protecting the environment in any number of ways.

So too our community’s wineries and grape growers — and a good number of them are involved in a program called Napa Green, developed and supported by the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV). It is a voluntary, rigorous program with independent third-party reviews and the need for periodic renewals, but that is not stopping our wine industry community.

The program is comprised of two separate certifications: Napa Green Certified Land and Napa Green Certified Winery. Incredibly, each program is tailored specifically to the individual vineyard or winery.

The St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Vintners Tasting Panel listened this past week as Patsy McGaughy of the NVV described the program at the Rudd Center at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Panelists then tasted through a set of wines made by Napa Green certified growers and wineries.

On the minds of panelists prior to the tasting: would the wines taste any different? Do they lose anything by being under this program?

First, it helps to understand what Napa Green requires one to do.

The biological diversity in our valley is vast and Napa Green Certified Land, which includes both vineyard and non-vineyard land, works on protecting our forests, woodlands, shrublands, grasslands, rock outcrops, riparian corridors, wetlands and vernal pools in our watersheds which provide habitat for a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. Napa County is also a stop on the Pacific Flyway, a bird migration route that extends from Mexico to Canada.

The program assists landowners in evaluating their farm or property’s natural features, resources, plant and other life, and then looks at how best to sustain them. By reducing or stopping the use of certain chemicals, returning soil composition to a natural, living state, and allowing for stable water drainage, among other sustainable practices, we protect this diverse beauty and life that surrounds us.

Approximately 55,500 acres are currently enrolled in Napa Green and more than 32,000 of these acres are certified.

Almost four dozen wineries are under the Napa Green Certified Winery program to date. During the tasting, Keith Hock, winemaker at Schramsberg Vineyards, told of their experiences as one of the first wineries to go through certification. The process itself, he said, is not overly challenging; you watch how much water you use and how much waste you are producing, things that make sense and wineries should be doing anyway.

Initially, he noted, they had difficulty when they went to replace the winery’s florescent lighting, but that difficulty was due to the age of the winery. “It was the right thing to do, it resulted in better lighting, and there were even rebates from PG&E,” Keith said. With many Napa Green activities, he continued, there are often no costs involved or wineries save money in the long run.

In general, wineries look to reduce energy and water use, waste and pollution, and actions are aimed at reducing wineries’ carbon footprints. In 2012 Napa Green wineries saved over 3 million pounds of carbon dioxide from recycling and other green efforts.

The model that Napa Green Certified Winery is based on, the Association of Bay Area Governments’ Green Business Program, was recently adopted as the statewide standard for green businesses in California.

Asked whether consumers are interested in green when purchasing wines, Eric Carpenter, who worked with Dean & DeLuca and has now opened his own retail-oriented Carpenter Wine Enterprises, confirmed that it matters. People are positively influenced when they hear that a winery is involved in green practices.

In order to share this information with consumers, the NVV will be announcing shortly the ability of vintners to include the Napa Green icon on their wine labels to show their support of the program.

The program continues to add newly interested growers and vintners. In fact, following the panel discussion, vintner Bill Dyer said he was reminded to sign up for the program, something he would do the next day. Other winemakers mentioned their impending involvement as well.

This new support of Napa Green was the very first clue as to panelists’ impressions on the wines that were tasted. Panelist after panelist remarked on the high quality presented. Wayne Donaldson of Donaldson Wine, who has just released his first vintage of Eonian Wines, said there was attention to detail and all of the wines were well-crafted. Jim Sullivan of Castello di Amorosa added that the wines were every balanced and the cabernets especially were beautiful across the board.

Unusual for this group, there was nary a negative comment heard, especially given that winemakers, by the very nature of what they do, are prone to picking apart wines critically. When pressed, panelists picked their favorites from the 21 wines reviewed:

Keenan Winery, 2009 Merlot, Spring Mountain District ($64) has deep, complex aromas of ripe red cherries and plums, baking spices, and tobacco; a very hedonistic sip.

Peju Winery, 2010 Sauvignon blanc, Napa Valley ($22) is filled with fresh lemon and lime citrus and orange zest with a nice, rich palate.

Salvestrin, 2009 3D Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena ($125) is full of rich blackberry and blueberry fruit with powerful tannins.

Schramsberg Vineyards, 2009 Querencia Brut Rose ($50) is a sparkling wonderland of strawberries and cream with fresh-baked biscuit flavors.

St. Supery Estate, 2010 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($100) has a good dose of sweet oak spices followed by deep, rich blackberry flavors.

V. Sattui Winery, 2010 Zinfandel, Black Sears Vineyard, Howell Mountain ($42) is a richly complex wine filled with deep blackberry fruit aromas and flavors, well-integrated oak notes and great balancing acidity.

For the St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Vintners tasting panel, these wines are proof that being good tastes very good indeed.

(Catherine Seda is the St. Helena Star’s tasting panel writer and works for Balzac Communications & Marketing in Napa. She holds a diploma in wine and spirits from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, and enjoys all things wine. Contact her at catseda@gmail.com. Only wines from Napa Valley Vintner member wineries are accepted and tasted. Not all wines submitted are chosen to be tasted as often there are more wines submitted than tasted. The wines are chosen by random. Many wineries offer local residents discounts on their wines through the Napa Neighbor program, visit napavintners.com/ programs and click on Napa Neighbor to learn more.)

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