Red, white and green

Red, white and green

Eco-friendly winemaking is all the rage. In October 2007, wine-geek-with-a-Ph.D. Tyler Colman co-wrote a paper detailing the wine industry’s carbon footprint, in which he pointed out that if you live east of Ohio, it’s more eco-friendly to buy French wine than Californian. Why? Because French wine travels mostly by boat instead of truck. In February 2008 this idea was pushed ad absurdum when a French shipping company announced it was going to begin shipping wines via innovative 19th century technology, namely an 1896 sailing ship. The first shipment of 60,000 bottles took a week longer than normal to arrive, but saved 18,375 pounds of carbon.    

It has long been gospel that Virginia wines will never be organic; the sheer number of bugs and mildews pretty much necessitate spraying. But organic is sooo hippy dippy 1990s anyway; sustainability is what’s hot, as exemplified by industry giant Fetzer, which has been doing the green thing since the mid ’80s. Their numbers are tight and right: 100 percent renewable energy for all the winery operations, 95 percent waste free, carbon negative to the nth degree…the list goes on. Out in Nelson County, Claude DelFosse has been paying attention and he’s taking the first steps towards the greening of DelFosse Vineyards.

Flower child: “We have the bones, now we have to add the meat,” Claude DelFosse says about long-term sustainability at his vineyards.

On a rainy Monday afternoon, Mr. DelFosse is poring over the results of a carbon footprint assessment of the winery, while his vineyard manager, Grayson Poats, awaits a delivery of hay from a local farmer to help combat erosion on the steep, terraced vineyards. Soon, local sheep will be grazing among the vines, a common practice in New Zealand, the sheep acting as natural lawnmowers and fertilizers. Currently, the 32 sheep are eating and pooping in a rejuvenated organic apple orchard behind the winery. The Wintergreen Nature Foundation plans to build native flowerbeds to help attract beneficial bugs, and the Virginia Bluebird Society has established a series of bluebird houses, the occupants of which will, it’s hoped, eat harmful insects. Both projects aim to reduce the amount of insecticide DelFosse needs to spray each year.

In addition to the carbon analysis, DelFosse has also hired a forester to create a stewardship plan for the woods that surround the winery. Of the 320 total acres, over 200 are forested, making the winery seriously carbon negative. But still, the DelFosse family and Poats want to do more, so they are looking into using the many streams on the property to generate micro-hydro energy. They have already begun using recycled shipping products and are examining how they can reduce the winery’s total waste.

The greening of DelFosse Vineyards is not perfect. The biggest eco issue in winemaking, as shown by Colman’s study, is transportation, and as Mr. DelFosse and Poats talk carbon, a big flatbed truck hauling a small Caterpillar tractor lumbers up the mountain. The organic apple orchard functions at this point merely as a source of more fertilizer; they haven’t yet found an outlet for the apples. But, it’s a start. “We have the bones, now we have to add the meat,” DelFosse says.

In many ways, DelFosse Vineyards is like all the rest: tourist accessible and wedding friendly. Yes, there is a lake and a pavilion and statues and tiled plazas and elaborate stonework. But there are also five and a half miles of wild trails, built and maintained by Nelson County, that are open to the public 9am to 5pm every day, and an ongoing commitment to keeping the land as green as possible. “Sustainability is not an event,” DelFosse says, “it’s a long term thing.”