Growing Sustainable Wine: Cline Family Cellars

The right glass of wine can work wonders. Whether they start to an evening or accompanying a memorable meal, magic can happen somewhere between the grape on the vine and the taste on the tongue. In Sonoma County, there’s an additional bit of magic going on, where winemakers and grape growers are working relentlessly to become the country’s first 100% sustainable region by 2019. Sustainable wine at Cline Family Cellars is part of this movement.

The widely distributed brand is one you might already be familiar with, it’s available worldwide. What might be surprising, however, is the family’s dedication to conservation and the environment.

Growing up in the farming tradition influenced California winemaker Fred Cline and led him down the road to the Green String Method of sustainable wine production at Cline Family Cellars. As a young boy, he was exposed to his grandfather's methods and techniques. Looking to move beyond organic, in 2000 Fred began working with sustainable farm legend Bob Cannard who along with Chez Panisse pioneered the concept of sustainability and the farm-to-table concept in the food movement in the US.

rolling hills in a vineyard

Shortly thereafter, Canard and Cline implemented the Green String farming method, founded the Green String Institute and developed a 140-acre farm in Petaluma, CA. This natural process agriculture works at balancing the health of soil and plants. The concept reminds me of all the current discussion of a healthy gut. When your body is in balance, it is much easier to fight off disease and illness. This type of farming method basically adopts the same philosophy. When you have a self nourishing system, better crops are a result.

Cline Family Cellars Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris

Today, the Cline family owns vineyards throughout Contra Costa and Sonoma Counties where Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot, Rhone and Zinfandel are produced. The practices were developed by the Cline Family Cellars as a system to promote biological activity and enhance biodiversity. It is meant to minimize the waste of both energy and water, as well as the pollution emitted, resulting in a variety of wines that are both healthy and eco-friendly.

Green String Method Techniques to Produce Sustainable Wine Cline Family Cellars

  • The farm houses more than 500 goats and 1500 sheep-Wooly Weeders– who graze the vineyard to rid it of weeds before and after harvest season.They are natural pruners and remove leaves so the grapes can ripen in sunlight.
  • The soil is also fed with cover crop made from a variety of plants. The organic material produced may either be used to fertilize the soil or fed to the animals.
  • In an attempt to become fully sustainable all waste such as pruning and pomace is turned into compost which is used as a biological stimulant for the soils. Some of the compost is processed further using worms to boost it biologically into an aerobic tea. I saw this method of soil enhancement at work at an eco-resort in southern India. The nutrient rich tea irrigates the vineyards carrying the indigenous matter to the soils.
  • Apart from compost, the soil gains its nutrients from crushed volcanic cinder which contains many naturally occurring minerals that promote healthy growth of the grapevines. The farmers grind their own cinder as it contains trace elements of all the necessary minerals that help build a fullness in the grown fruits.

    Cline Family Cellars Pinot Griss
  • Since pests are only indicators of a healthy ecosystem which is self sustainaing, the use of pesticides is not endorsed by the Green String method. Night owls and hawks hunt the rodents ; spiders feed on the grasshoppers and mites that gather upon the vines. The system trusts all organisms to keep themselves healthy with the help of their immunological system. The farmers only ensure they are receiving the recommended amount of nutrition to maintain a hearty balance.
  • The one weakness the wine farm has yet to tackle using a natural approach is powdery mildew. Even for this purpose the sulfur used is organic and free of any contaminates with approximately 7 pounds applied per acre.
  • The vineyard is fully solar since 2005 using 100% sustainable energy. The roof of the winery houses over 2000 solar panels fixed on the 50,000 square feet area. Air quality in the vicinity has improved drastically as the amount of greenhouse gases has reduced by 690,000 pounds annually from the atmosphere.
  • The Green String Institute’s mission is to educate a new generation of farmers on how to respect the earth and respond to the needs of their environment as they raise food that brings health to local populations. Each season the Institute employs up to 12 interns, who live and work on the farm, accompanied by Cannard and expert guest lecturers who educate them on topics such as blacksmithing, food preservation, beekeeping, winemaking, cooking, and soil economics.

Cline Family Cellars Tasting Room

The green string method of wine production is of course only sustainable if Cline Cellars produces a bottle people want to drink. Visitors can take a tour of the vineyard, winery and cellars to learn more about the organic wine at Cline Family Cellars, and of course taste the delicious results. I’m a convert to their Pinot Gris.

Located in Sonoma, the area is blessed with beautiful landscapes, wonderful wildlife and some of the best wine in all of California. Their tasting room on site lets small groups of six or fewer people drop in and try their 5 best wines for a standard fee of $10 (a bargain if ever I saw one)! Larger groups can reserve a private tasting to enjoy a more intimate experience.

Cline Family Cellars Outdoor Pond

I think most people today are more than happy to incorporate eco friendly practices into a greener lifestyle. Especially when you make it simple. Raising awareness about something as basic as drinking a wine where production supports, rather than takes from the earth is an easy step. Using the green string method of production for the sustainable wine at Cline Family Cellars results in a high quality wine that is a great value, a method that allows a greater number of people to enjoy an eco-friendly product.

Cline Family Cellars Front Gate

Imagine in a few years going to buy a bottle or glass of Sonoma County wine anywhere in the world with the confidence of knowing that the wine was certified as having been grown and made with the best sustainable practices. The grape growers and winemakers of Sonoma County are well on their way to that goal. It’s exciting to see the winegrowers committed to preserving their local agricultural roots and maintaining the rural beauty that defines the region.