06 April 2009

Green Winemaking Tour: Quivira

During my recent visit to California, my focus was on environmentally-friendly winemaking. Vineyards can be USDA Certified Organic, Certified Biodynamic, an individual or other private program may be followed, or the winery may simply use sustainable methods without the paperwork. While there are arguments about the benefits and differences between these various philosophies, all have the same goal: to produce wine with fewer negative impacts on the environment.

One of my first stops provided me with great insight on the whole concept. Quivira Vineyards is located in the Dry Creek Valley. As an independent operation they've been making wine since 1987, but the property has been used for growing wine grapes since the 1960s. I spoke to winemaker Steven Canter about his winemaking methods, his philosophy, and about the land.

He explained that green winemaking is more than just avoiding pesticides, it's a holistic approach to agriculture. Using what's on the land and building a balanced ecosystem, but also extending that philosophy to include topics like pay and health care for the grape pickers and others that work at the vineyard. It's about not being a drain on the surrounding community in terms of pulling resources, but rather building a self-sustaining system that improves and benefits the area. For instance, instead of artificial fertilizers, chickens eat weeds and bugs, and the composted manure is used to help grow vines. And this natural, nitrogen-rich fertilizer isn't trucked from halfway across the country--it's right on the property.

Since I'm not from the area, I had a lot of questions about the local wildlife and its impact on the grapes. Canter said that deer sometimes nip the buds off vines in the spring, and rabbits occasionally chew through driplines, but that there's little significant impact from the wild animals. It's a beautiful area, nestled between the hills and mountains. With the peace and quiet, reliance on traditional farming methods, and tender care of the land, it's easy to forget where you are. Or when you are for that matter; a lot of these green winemaking techniques were the standard for agriculture for millennia and are being rediscovered by the present generation.

Quivira is Certified Biodynamic, meaning that they go a step beyond organic. Factors such as rhythm of the seasons and natural fertilizers come into play; indeed, the methods for making compost read more like recipes than a chemistry textbook. Canter pointed out that while this is the way they feel they can best make wine and take care of the land, he doesn't think that such methods should be forced on anyone. It may be easy to feel like you've got to tiptoe around the organic movement like vegetarians at a BBQ, but these are good folks doing amazing things with the land they farm, and working the land in such a way as to preserve it for future generations.

I can't thank Canter enough for his patient explanation of this worldview, which proved invaluable for the remainder of my trip. If you're in the Healdsburg/Dry Creek area, visit Quivira and be amazed.

Wines Sampled

Due to the number of wines tasted on this trip, the notes will be brief. Further tasting notes, ordering information, and prices can be found at Quivira's website.

2007 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc - Barrel Complete. Partial use of acacia wood barrels, which is unusual. Creamy, vanilla, hint of citrus. Balanced and smooth, a nice change of pace if, like me, you've been drinking a lot of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This was my favorite of the tasting, and is highly recommended.

2006 Quivira Zinfandel - Dry Creek Valley. From 50 year old vines. Plum, earthy, tasted like it would go exceptionally well with wild game like venison.

2006 Quivira Mourvèdre - Wine Creek Ranch. Touch of berries and ash, very rustic. Tasting grapes like this on their own help you understand Rhone-style blends so much better.

2006 Quivira Syrah - Wine Creek Ranch. Blueberry and bacon notes. Food-friendly wine that ought to work with a wide range of dishes.

2006 Quivira Petite Sirah - Wine Creek Ranch. Medium tannins, touch of tea, lovely black cherry aromas and flavors. Petite Sirah grows well in this area, and is often mixed into Zinfandel in small quantities.

Note: For the next couple of months, my Monday posts will focus on this topic, with each post highlighting a specific winery. And thanks again to the Four Points by Sheraton of San Rafael for sponsoring my stay in the area.


fredric koeppel said...

V. interesting. it's nice to see someone who uses biodynamic methods without being all starry-eyed and obsessive about them. I used to like the wines of Quivira a lot, but I haven't seen them in years.

Samantha Dugan said...

Nice report Benito, I'm with you on the Quivira Sauvignon Blanc & I always think of it ad being more in the style of white Bordeaux than say, Sancerre which is nice once in awhile.

Benito said...


One thing I did not keep detailed notes about was distribution; with limited time some things had to escape my attention. Of the wines that will show up in these posts, some are only available at the winery, some are only available in certain parts of the country. A couple of vineyards had scaled back production in order to focus on making fewer, better quality wines.


On this trip I got to try a lot of things that I don't normally drink, like Zinfandel. I love Zin, I just pass over it at the wine shop in favor of some obscure grape or region. But I could not believe the range of flavors and textures of Zinfandel in such a geographically small area.

Michelle said...

Very interesting post

Dirty said...

I've enjoyed the Quivira Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc.

Nice juice w/ with Dirty South roots-

(The Owners are ATL natives)