A lot of “critters” have shown up on wine labels recently – horses, ducks, fish, moose, bulls, roosters and sheep – used to boost shelf visibility and, hopefully, improve sales. But now real “critters” are actually being invited into the vineyard to improve something more germane -- what’s in the bottle.
These new “critters” include butterflies, ladybugs, and bumblebees, all considered beneficial insects, which prey on natural enemies of the vine.
No one has done a better, or more visible, job at being Noah – bringing these critters onto the Sustainable Vineyard Ark – than Groth Vineyards & Winery, in Oakville. They’ve even gone so afar as to create the valley’s first “Insectary Garden,” an inviting home for desirable insects.
Next month, on four consecutive Fridays, visitors to the winery can have a complimentary tour of Groth’s Insectary Garden, as well as taste some mighty fine sustainable-farmed Oakville wines, also at no charge. (Details below).
“In our move toward total sustainable farming, we replanted 78 acres of vines, changing their orientation, trellising and ground crop,” says Suzanne Groth, head of public relations for the winery. “And to care for the new vines, we created the Insectary Garden,” she adds.
Here’s what they did: Last year, Groth planted 44 varieties of shrubs, trees, perennials and grasses to attract specific insects, birds and reptiles to increase biodiversity on the property and to control pesky insects biologically, rather than chemically.
In other words, they planted especially tasty stuff to attract good bugs… which would kill off the bad bugs.
The actual idea for the Insectary Garden came from landscape architect Nancy Roche, of Roche + Roche Landscape Architecture in Sonoma.
In agricultural-speke, this is known as a sustainable farming practice. Groth planted Achillea Paprika (yarrow), for example, to attract ladybugs, which love snacking on leafhoppers, which are nasty predators of our valley’s best vines.
They planted Ceanothus (California Lilac) to attract lacewings, which flitter about the vineyard noshing on mealy bugs. The mealies (they sound like a group of nasties in a George Lucas film…) wreak havoc on grape vines, spreading mold and viruses.
For the record, sustainable farming is considered one step beyond organic farming, which we hear so much about these days. Sustainable farming practices take into consideration the effects of doing any one thing on the entire surrounding environment. In the case of Napa Valley, it means caring about the health of the entire watershed of the valley.
At Groth, this has meant replanting estate vines on a north-south axis rather than an east-west axis to profit from winds, which blow north from San Pablo Bay. Air circulation, which is free, natural, and plentiful in Oakville, helps reduce mildew, and mold, diminishing the need for remedial chemicals.
They’ve also encouraged the growth (or should I say “the Groth?”) of cover crops between rows of vines to further establish a healthy insect population to battle bad bugs, as well as conserve soil moisture.
At Groth, seeing weeds between manicured rows of vines is considered a good thing; it’s a smart farming practice and means specific chemicals can be eliminated.
Dennis and Judy Groth, who founded the winery in 1981, are both responsible for spreading this pastoral religion. During his tenure as chairman of the Wine Institute, Dennis established an industry-wide code for sustainable winegrowing practices, which has become a standard for hundreds of wineries across California.
For the release of each vintage of Groth Reserve Cabernet, the winery’s top wine, Suzanne Groth, who is a trained artist, paints a new image; this is her offering for the release of the 2005 Groth Reserve Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon next month.
To showcase the results of sustainable farming, the Groths are inviting visitors to walk among their colorful Insectary Garden and taste estate wines every Friday in September – with tasting fees waived.
Call the winery to register for a free garden tour and wine tasting, offered from 11 am to 2 pm on each Friday in September – the 5th, 12th, 19th and 26th. Reservations are not officially required, but it would be helpful for the winery to know who’s coming and how many might be on hand to sip wines.
I tasted through some of the wines that will be poured on Fridays and had a sneak preview of the winery’s stunning 2005 Reserve Cab, which will officially be released September 20.
2007 Groth Sauvignon Blanc
This is the winery’s workhorse, responsible for nearly half of all Groth’s volume. Winemaker Michael Weis insisted a long time ago that this would be a better wine with a touch of Semillon and he was right. This straw-colored, pleasing wine, with 4 percent Semillon, has attractive fruit flavors (largely pear), exhibits bright acidity and has an alluring finish, which makes you want to take another sip. Good as a sipping wine, also ideal with food. In excess of 30,000 cases produced. $18 retail. 90 points
2005 Groth Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
A rich, charming, compelling wine, reminding me of Franciscan’s Magnificat, another area red blend, which I quite like. About one-quarter Merlot, this wine has a lovely texture, almost silken on the palate. While the wine is plush and plum-y, the Merlot is not overplayed; the Cab shines through with black currant-correctness. Elegant, balanced and fairly priced ($55) – who could ask for anything more? 93 points.
2005 Groth Reserve Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
There are only 1,400 cases of this exceptional wine. Look at the color! Regal, the purple of Kingly robes; quick, someone bring me a thrown.
Still young, this wine has a tight nose, but there are hints of plum and black currants, which will evolve over time. Many Asian spice flavors evident – from two years in all-new oak. Yet this is an elegant, balanced textbook achievement. Available to club members and winery visitors at $150/bottle. 93 points.
Groth Vineyards & Winery, 750 Oakville Cross Road, Oakville. Tel: 707-754-4254.