Certified Sustainable Wineries in the Verde ValleyBy Darcy Hitchcock, co-founder of the Sustainability Alliance
It surprises many people that Arizona has over 100 wineries, and a number of them are in the Verde Valley. Since there are so many, why not favor and visit the ones that are certified as Sustainable Businesses? Here are two that have earned the Innovator/Silver level of certification.
Clear Creek Winery
Clear Creek was the first winery to become certified under the Sustainability Alliance. To save energy, owner Ignacio Mesa uses passive solar for the second fermentation of their wines. Gravity racking (using gravity to move the wine from one tank to another) reduces labor and time significantly. He only uses stainless steel tanks which last longer and require less maintenance than wood barrels.
In the vineyard, a cover crop of vetch and peas prevents erosion and provides nitrogen to the soil. Once mowed, these plants become mulch to retain moisture. All the fish in the irrigation pond found their way from a ditch that carries the water from the West Clear Creek. “Migratory ducks winter here; they eat the moss that I used to have to dredge out of the pond,” Mesa explains. “The Canadian geese seem to have retired here.” The bird and fish manure provide high-nitrogen water for the vineyard. He’s set up a system to water 70 percent of his vineyards without electric pumps; he’s able to siphon water out of the pond.
Pest control comes with beaks and paws. Mesa covers the grapes in netting to keep wild birds away. The ducks and chickens eat insects near the ground. And Cisco and Pancho, two Great Pyrenees dogs, protect them and the grapes from coyotes and raccoons. When I first visited, the dogs had clearly had a run-in with a skunk, so dog lovers, sniff before you rush to pet them.
Reuse is part of their ethic. They compost plant materials from the vineyard and winemaking. You’ll fine recycled wood on the bar and tables. Recently, they purchased a Wine Party Bus (formerly a school bus). Cheese platters are made from timber attacked by bark beetles. “I give grape vines to artists to make wreaths and donate used wine bottles to little wineries that have the time to clean them.” He even uses the tartrate salt crystals from the bottom of the tanks for making pancakes. “It’s great with tequila too!”
Page Spring Cellars
Page Springs Cellars has long been known as a leading winery in environmental practices. All their vineyards are no-till, meaning they don’t disturb the soil, which can release carbon. Instead they mow native grasses and other green cover crops. Most of the plant debris is composted and put back into the vineyard. Because PSC wants their wine to reflect the terroir, not the barrel, they can reuse their ‘neutral’ barrels, since they don’t impart flavor, for up to 20 years. They are experimenting with adding wood slats (called staves) from native trees into the barrels when they want some woody notes.
Solar panels over the parking area currently produce 75-85 percent of their electricity and they are planning to get to 100 percent soon by adding more panels over their tasting room. They minimize transportation by only selling in Arizona and mostly through their own tasting rooms.
The winery also has remarkable employment practices. All full-time employees earn a living wage. They are encouraged to develop their interests, and the team uses a peer review process where co-workers can give one another and their managers useful feedback.
Recently PSC added an artificial wetland to replace the inadequate septic system. Wastewater veteran and Groundskeeper, Rick Marcotte, developed the system. “All black and graywater (from toilets, sinks, and processing the wine) now runs through a series of biological filters and settling tanks.” At the end, the water is passed through an artificial wetland of local wetland plants. “Guess what the containers are,” Luke Bernard, Brand Manager, asked. “Cruise missile covers!”
Make wine, not war.
Go to www.sustainabilityallianceaz.org for the most current list of certified businesses.