Archive for September, 2009

Reconnecting with the Earth: An Eco-Tour of Napa Valley

September 9, 2009

file3671250234202As the crisp autumn wind creeps slowly back into the air and the neighborhood kids head back to school, I can’t help but reminisce on my “sustainable” adventures from the summer of 2009.

This year, my summer was filled with more eco-escapades than ever before – exploring the wonders of fine, organic food at local bistros, shopping for environmentally friendly interiors for my 1940’s Cape Cod bungalow, and most notably, a week-long tour of some uniquely sustainable hot spots in California’s famed Napa Valley. 

Having never been to wine country before, my husband and I relied heavily on the power and insight of “Google,” as well as on copious referrals from the many wine lovers in our lives. (If you ever want to see someone get truly animated, ask a wine aficionado about Napa…)

We headed out to the hills with a list of recommendations longer than we could ever hope to visit and frankly very little real knowledge about wine –aside from the basic rules about pairing reds with meat and whites with chicken – a dramatic oversimplification, I know. We made a reservation at Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa, the “world’s first” LEED-certified gold hotel, and charted out a game plan to maximize our wine education (and consumption!)

Fortunately, one of the very first stops on our winery tour turned out to be the most advanced in its environmental practices, and its knowledgeable tour guides succeeded in bringing our appreciation for fine, sustainable wine to a whole new level. Frog’s Leap” winery is nestled in the heart of wine country in Rutherford, CA, and – as its tour guides are apt to say – was organic “before it was cool.” Visitors to the vineyard enjoy guided tastings on the porch of its beautiful LEED-certified building overlooking its picturesque organic gardens.

Frog’s Leap’s operations are centered on a belief that sustainability doesn’t have to mean compromise. Aside from harvesting an absolutely delicious product, Frog’s Leap uses a combination of dry farming, compost and cover crops to take full advantage of its soil and to bring a “balanced diet” to its vines. Cover crops also provide a habitat for desirable insects (like ladybugs and spiders), which then consume other vineyard pests. The vineyard is also 100 percent solar powered and features geothermal heating and cooling in its Hospitality Center.

At its core, however, Frog’s Leap is about good wine, and its owner,  John Williams, certainly succeeds in achieving his goal of producing wines that strongly reflect the soils and climates from which they emanate. Now that’s exactly the kind of “reconnection with the earth” that I can get excited about!

Our trip also taught us that sustainable wine is about more than just the land and the grapes. Sustainable packaging is also a significant focus for many wine makers and distributors. Of course most wine bottles or “cubes” can be recycled after use; however, some vintners are also looking for ways to reduce packaging from the outset. For example, last year, popular winemaker Fetzer took steps to reduce the weight of its wine bottle and The Wine Group switched many of its brands from bottles to bags.

Packaging News also recently announced that the world’s first 300g screwcap wine bottle is set to enter the United Kingdom market by the end of this year. The new design will reduce the current best in class wine bottle by 56g. If only less bottle meant more wine…

Get Water Wise!

September 9, 2009

file000988688026Did you know that the average U.S. home uses 260 gallons of water per day – and up to 1,000 gallons of water during peak watering season?

Fortunately there are a variety of easy ways to significantly reduce water use in your home, garden and workplace. As just one example, if one out of every 10 American homes upgraded to EPA-approved “WaterSense” fixtures, we’d save more than 120 billion gallons of water and $800 million dollars a year!

Here are a few other simple tips to help conserve water in your daily life:

  • Fix that leak! Just one leak can waste up to 200 gallons of water per week.
  • Wash only full loads of laundry and dishes, and don’t pre-rinse dishes before loading them into the dishwasher.
  • Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the fridge instead of running the tap water until it turns cold.
  • Use the garbage disposal sparingly – try composting instead!
  • Adjust sprinklers so only the lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk or street.
  • Adjust your lawnmower to cut grass no shorter than three inches; taller grass encourages deeper roots and helps counteract moisture loss.
  • Be creative! Try collecting the water you use for rinsing fruits and vegetables and reusing it to water potted plants.