Philosophy & Practices
When we established Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, sustainable farming was not in the common vernacular as it is today. Yet it was always deeply ingrained in our philosophy of winegrowing.
From the beginning, we’ve believed that choices made in the vineyard would have a profound influence not only on the quality of the wine, but on the health of the environment and the welfare of generations to come. That philosophy continues to guide Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars today. Using a number of tools and practices, our goal is to ensure that the vineyard environment is in harmony with the natural environment. By embracing rather than competing with Mother Nature we seek to create a healthy eco-system, one that includes vibrant vineyards destined to produce high quality grapes and outstanding wines for years to come.
Cover Crops & Soil Amendments
Cover crops – crops cultivated between vine rows – and soil amendments are at the heart of our sustainable farming operations. Both practices protect against erosion, contribute nutrients and organic matter, improve soil structure and water infiltration, and aid in the infinite complexities of a healthy environmental system. Vineyard manager Kirk Grace takes a very site-specific approach, matching cover crop types and soil mixtures to the needs and characteristics of each vineyard block.
Drip irrigation, which became prevalent in the 1970’s, has had a dramatic effect on grape and wine quality, but it also minimizes water loss by delivering it to the plant’s roots versus overhead systems which water the entire vineyard. Drip irrigation allows us to finely tune our water application by vineyard block and sub-blocks. By walking the vineyard regularly and using devices that measure soil water content and vine stress, we’re able to apply water more judiciously and only to the vine rows that truly need it.
We utilize a number of integrated pest management (IPM) techniques to minimize damage from pests which are harmful to grapevines. Using cover crops specifically designed to attract certain insects we create an environment in which “beneficial bugs” – bugs that feed on harmful bugs as well as funguses – can thrive. We place nesting boxes throughout our vineyards to provide homes for owls that feed on unwanted rodents and pests. And we also use hedgerows – including corn – that act as barriers between our vineyards and the areas where harmful bugs can breed.
Farming in a sustainable manner requires commitment and individual attention to each grapevine. Our labor-intensive system of canopy management means that during the course of a growing season we make dozens of “passes” through the vineyard. By suckering new shoots, training them onto trellises, and removing lateral shoots and leaves we precisely control the amount of air and light that circulates and surrounds each grapevine. This cultivation naturally minimizes undesirable molds and fungus.
Watershed and Habitat Restoration
Ensuring that our farming practices don’t interfere with the surrounding habitat and watershed is crucial to the long term health of our vineyards. Several years ago we undertook a major habitat restoration of Chase Creek, a long and winding tributary of the Napa River that runs through our S.L.V. and FAY Vineyards. By laying down rock, preserving old growth trees, removing non-native plants and replanting with native species, we were able to reduce erosion, restore water flow and create a thriving environment for raptors, hawks, owls and other wildlife. And because healthy ecosystems radiate outwards, there is a direct correlation between the vibrancy of the watershed and the vitality of our vineyards.
Water is a precious natural resource, particularly in our dry, Mediterranean climate. Through an agreement with the nearby town of Yountville, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is able to use reclaimed and recycled water for our vineyard needs, but we also carefully monitor our water use in the winery.