Given how gardening of all types has exploded in the past decade — from hippie mountain and west coast organic to urban community — fostering a positive and powerful uprising of local food production and consumption, it’s not surprising that wine and wineries are firmly rooted in this renewed consciousness.
Having entered this new era, the modern winery ethos reflects consumers’ insistence on a healthy sustainability in all products. So much so that all new winery designs take into account more than just the wine production facilities, indeed to a deeper connection with the surrounding land.
Not simply nice to look at, flowering cover crops build biodiversity, attracting insect colonies and birds that act as natural pest control. The old French farmers said that the bees that lived around the vineyards helped with pollination of grape varietals. With world bee populations declining, this changing pendulum swing offers hope for the natural world. Many types of herbs and flowers are used in biodynamic fertilizer growth teas. Shrubs and bushes planted over underground wine cellars can help to regulate temperatures underneath.
But long before Gil Nickels’ garden of 8,000 azaleas — the most in California — at Napa’s Nickel & Nickel/Far Niente, before Molly Pritchard’s lavish eye-popping poppies dotted the mountain hillsides of Chapellet’s Napa estate, and before Yort Wing Frank produced a masterful Asian style garden at Chateau Montelena — pre Jim Barrett era — complete with a small lake crossed a red bridge to an island with a pagoda, wineries knew the varied importance of gardens.
The original California wine garden was planted with roses in the 1880s at the Korbel family house on the venerable sparkling wine estate outside of Guerneville in Sonoma County. The European immigrant culture was evident throughout the state, as farmers not only brought vines, but also flowers, plants and shrubs. In 1893, Napa’s legendary Stag’s Leap winery was the site of an elegant Victorian garden. Today Korbel grows an astounding 250 champion rose varietals and Stag’s Leap features a delicate fairy world that they call their moon garden.
If you have visited the classy Justin Vineyard and Winery in Paso Robles, you have toured and perhaps had a bistro lunch in their English gardens. Monterrey’s Mirrasou grows a chef’s garden, and back in Sonoma at Benziger — at the forefront of modern, sustainable consciousness-you will find a splendid organic garden. The organic gardens of Fetzer in Mendocino County are also both symbolic and noteworthy, just as their wines pioneered the organic movement. Now more than ever before, they continually renew a commitment to the environment and to innovate in a sustainable way, so as to ensure their winery operations are in harmony with the planet.
A few years ago I did some touring down the West Coast, and I will never forget the camellias and willows weeping in the fog and mist at Sylvan Ridge, just outside of Eugene, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Also on that trip I experienced an afternoon tasting in the sun splashed gardens of Goldeneye, Duckhorn’s Mendocino pinot noir outpost, and I was thrilled to stroll the endless, rolling fields of aromatic purple lavender at Matanzas Creek, among the golden hills of Sonoma’s Bennett Valley. The prairie-like nature of Sonoma, with its interspersed meadows and Mediterranean climate, has been continuously planted and replanted. Today it evokes the old world of Spain or France’s Provence.
And for a spectacle well beyond the scope of everyday common garden varietals, check out Mark West — near Forestville in Sonoma — for what is touted as the world’s largest garden of carnivorous plants. See Venus flycatchers, purple pitcher plants and many others. It’s safe to say this garden attracts but does not foster colonies of helpful insects.
It’s also safe to say that in all of these examples, winery gardens offer something special for the wine country tourist. Beyond attracting visitors with a beautiful setting and a place for a tranquil stroll with a sweet buzz, the winery garden-like all gardens-is a place to pause, step away, reflect and meditate. And, as the winery garden both soothes and excites the senses, it becomes more than just a metaphor for wellness, it is an essential component to the prana-the life force-of the wine you are enjoying. I will drink to that. Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org