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August 05, 2009

HALL: California's Greenest Winery

by Brook Wilkinson

It doesn't take much to get me out of the city during San Francisco's foggy summer months, and last week gave me a great excuse to head up to Napa: the debut of California's first LEED Gold-certified winery. (LEED is a certification program run by the U.S. Green Building Council; buildings earn a rating based on energy use, water efficiency, construction materials used, etc.) HALL Wines was already well known for its luscious cabernet sauvignon, but now it's making a name for itself in the world of sustainable wine.

There's been little agreement in the wine world so far about how to position oneself as a thoughtful caretaker of the planet. Having your wine certified organic means not adding sulfites--even though they are a natural byproduct of fermentation--which many winemakers are loathe to agree to. My personal experience in buying organic wine has been very mixed. What I do seek out are bottles labeled "grown from organic grapes." This means that the fruit was grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers, but sulfite was added. Other bottles are labeled biodynamic, which means that they subscribe to the principles of a rather eccentric agricultural philosophy, including burying cow horns filled with manure in the field. Winemakers I've talked to say that they prefer biodynamic to organic because it still prescribes natural methods of fertilizing the soil and reducing pests, but doesn't forbid the growers from using chemicals in the case of a phylloxera infestation--a dreaded plague here in California wine country.

HALL Wines uses mostly organic-grown grapes in its wines, and the company has now extended its green philosophy to its fermentation, bottling, and packaging methods. LEED gave them points for things like the acre of solar panels on the roofs of the barrel cellar and fermentation building, radiant floors that can heat and cool the rooms to precise temperatures, and recycled/recyclable shipping materials. You can take a free tour of HALL's green winery at 11 a.m. every day through the end of August. Just make sure you don't miss the tasting room--I walked away with a bottle of the 2008 sauvignon blanc myself. Now I'm just waiting for a sunny day here in the city to drink it.

Further reading:
* Brook's suggestions for five perfect days in California wine country.
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference.


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