This is a guest post by NRDC Growing Green Award-winner Mike Benziger of Benziger Family Winery. Benziger won in the Water Steward category for his industry-leading water conservation efforts, including an engineered wetland and innovative pond filtration system that recycles 2 million gallons of water per year.
As a family, we at Benziger Family Winery think of our land much like a human body.
The soil and geology act like its skin and bones. Water functions like blood, the vines, gardens and insectaries are the lungs, and engineered wetlands for our water recycling ponds act as the kidneys.
For the entire organism to run properly and function at the highest level, we have to create a synergy between each of the parts. So we try to grow grapes and produce wine the best way we know how – with Biodynamic® and natural farming practices.
We didn’t always approach our farming in this holistic way.
In fact, when we started farming our vineyard in 1980, we did it the way almost everyone else did, with machines and pesticides. It wasn’t cheap, and we did it that way for years. Aside from the cost, there was something more disturbing happening on our property.
I remember walking through our vineyard and being startled by sheer silence. There were no birds chirping, no bees buzzing. The grapes were growing on the vines as they should have been, but otherwise it was an ecological desert – eerily quiet and devoid of signs of life.
So, over time, we made some big changes. We eliminated chemical inputs. We planted olive trees, cover crops and insectaries to create a healthy polyculture. We took out some of the vines so there was more room for other plant species. We started feeding the soil and plants with compost rather than chemical fertilizers.
And the results were miraculous: the birds and the bees returned. We let nature back in.
In 2000, we celebrated as Benziger became the first winery in Sonoma and Napa counties to be certified as Biodynamic. We continue to be very proud of that important milestone.
The Benziger family is honored and privileged to receive the 2010 Growing Green Award from the Natural Resources Defense Council in the Water Stewardship category. Water is one of our most precious resources.
Water, after all, is at the core of everything we do as winegrowers.
We’ve done a lot to improve our systems and get the most out of every resource. By choosing the right varietals of grapes for the right soils and feeding the soil with compost rather than chemicals, we save up to 50% of the water we’d need for irrigation. We reuse over two million gallons of water each year through our recycling ponds and wetland, with gray water being filtered to irrigate the vineyards in the dry summer months.
And with cutting edge technology, we’re saving even more. Using a new barrel steamer, we’ve gone from using about 24 gallons of water per barrel to under 5 gallons per barrel. That amounts to hundreds of thousands of gallons of water saved each year.
Sometimes, small adjustments can result in a lot of change.
This Growing Green Award reminds us to keep striving to be better stewards, managers and educators when it comes to our natural capital. We share the information we’ve learned over the years with other growers, winemakers and consumers because we believe being a good steward means helping others move in the right direction.
To receive this award from NRDC, a group rooted in education and environmental action, means a lot to me and my family. It’s only fitting that we share this award with the people that make it happen every day in our vineyard and cellar. Joaquin Corona, our Estate Vineyard Manager and Jose Ortiz, our Cellar Master, have both been with us from the beginning. Joaquin and Jose and their crews are the reason Benziger can grow high quality grapes and conserve the way we do. We thank them for being the backbone of our winery.
Today, we still aspire to be better citizens of the earth. From our certified sustainable winegrowing program (called Farming with Flavors) for all of our sourced grapes, to continually looking working to reduce our carbon footprint, we never stop searching for ways we can use less and conserve more.
We keep trying to reduce the stress on the environment in the ways that we can.
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by deliciousblur