The greenest winery in America
I didn’t plan on going to Ukiah, but I’m so glad I did. I met some really cool people and stumbled upon a great story about a game changing winery.
The plan was to head south on Highway 101 from Arcata and take a left turn at Highway 20 for a stay in the Capay Valley northwest of Sacramento. But the plans fell through and we found ourselves adrift for a few days. We decided to stay in Ukiah mainly because the kids were tired of being in the car and the Vichy Springs Resort had an affordable RV site in their parking lot. When co-owner Marjorie Ashoff heard what we were up to she immediately said we had to make a stop at Parducci Wine Cellars.
I’d heard about Parducci. It’s been around for about 80 years and produced some unexceptional wine. But I didn’t know things had changed. The winery changed hands seven years ago and has become what Forbes magazine now calls “the greenest winery in America.” After what I saw over two visits to the winery and vineyards, I agree. The winery not only grows organic and biodynamically certified grapes but has also been certified as fish friendly, creating sustainable wildlife habitat area and the first carbon neutral winery in America.
Tim Thornhill, who used to be a site developer for Disney and other high profile clients, owns the winery along with standout winemaker Paul Dolan, the man responsible for setting Fetzer Wineryalong the same organic and biodynamic path. Although he moved his extended family to Ukiah, Thornhill is still very much a Texan.He wears a straw cowboy hat and speaks in a slow Texan drawl as he drops one declaration after another:
“We don’t manage the soil. We serve it and inspire it.”
“Being green means being efficient.”
“If you can’t measure it you can’t mitigate it.”
“I don’t believe in the word can’t.”
He showed me around the vineyards pointing out the grain and wildflower crops growing between the vines (something seldom seen in the typical viticultural monoculture), water usage meters and the many owl nest boxes perched atop long poles around the vineyard. (Owls eat more than 50 pounds of rodents a year). But what he appeared to be most proud of was the winery’s reclaimed water pond.
Once upon a time, the pond was a lifeless purple lagoon that smelled so bad, motorists on nearby 101 complained about the stink. The water came from the winery. Everything was washed down the drain and because the water so high in sugar from the wine that washed out of tanks, it literally sucked the oxygen out of the water. Today, Thornhill drives around the pond in a white Ford F-250 with a thick binder next to him, a camera and binoculars. Instead of a watery dump, the pond had become a wildlife sanctuary. The binder is filled with pictures he’s taken of all the wildlife he’s documented on the pond: night herons, turtles, wood ducks, dragon flies, river otters, muskrats, frogs, and scores more.
The Audubon Society documented the first overwintering green heron on the pond. Instead of a batter of noisy agitators to beat oxygen into the water he uses just, which along with a series of waterfalls, aerate the water much more elegantly than a 10 horsepower diesel engine ever would. The winery now recycles 100 percent of its water.
One of his most ingenious designs are a series of “trickle towers,” boxy structures seeded with foliage and filamentous fungi, a slimy black mold that eats the sugar out of the water that trickles over it. The water then flows into the pond which now nurtures life instead of killing it.
In addition to helping to revive what was a rather lackluster winery and making some fine wine, Thornhill and his partners are grinding the notion, that environmental consciousness and profitability are at odds, into dust. Parducci’s sales have tripled while its energy costs have gone down by 15 percent.
“If I can do this with one of the oldest winery’s in America, what’s everyone else’s excuse,” he asks.