The Frog is Green and the Wine Organic

16 Apr

The Last Sipper – Frog’s Leap Winery – Napa Valley

Sustainability, Organic Grapes, Green Building and Fine Wine

Venturing into the heart of the picturesque Rutherford region of Napa Valley we wine “disciples” meandered past an old historical red barn towards the Frog’s Leap Winery “green” hospitality farmhouse. We weren’t here looking for green wineries or organic wine, nor were we looking for frogs.  We were, of course, looking for good wines, new discoveries and a great time with friends. We entered the farmhouse and were waiting to be seated when I noticed a “LEED Silver” green certification plaque on a little table in the back (it is the first LEED certified building in Napa County). I asked about what things were green about the building. The answer I was given and the fact that there wasn’t a lot of hoopla about it made me realize that this was Frog’s Leap at its core.  It would not have been done any other way.  It wasn’t about the green certification; it was about their philosophy of life, of smart business practices, and being good stewards of the land that creates the grapes for their wine. They don’t need to advertise being green, why would they, that’s the way it is and always should be.

“Time’s fun when you’re having flies!”

The Frog’s Leap culture is built on a whimsical, fun loving nature, right down to the name of the winery, the cat “Terra” who wandered in one day and with the wise advice at the bottom of the bottle – “Open Other End”. But they are dead serious about how their wine is made and the care of the land and the grapes that give it its special qualities.

The hospitality farm style house is an inviting attractive building.  The floors are made from 150 year old oak reclaimed from a granary in Iowa wanting to creak as you walk over them. The timbers and beams are 200 year old Douglas fir from a piano factory in Seattle. This beautiful old wood adds a flair of quality you wouldn’t find with new wood and saves the old growth forests. Other green strategies they used to obtain the LEED Certification include using rapidly renewable materials (poplar in the trim from a sustainable tree farm), low VOC emitting materials – carpets, paint, coating sealants, CFC reduction in their HVAC equipment, double glazed windows, landscaping for shade and a recycling program.  And of course they have an incredible renewable energy program.

Frog’s Leap Green Building Renewable Energy Program

  • In February 2005 they went off the grid to 100% solar power at a cost of $1.2 million, a PG&E rebate of $600,000 reduced the cost in half and it will fully pay for itself in 6 years.
  • They generate enough electricity for 150 homes.
  • There are1020 panels on ½ acre of unused vineyard.
  • They sell the excess back to power company.
  • Geothermal system (one of the few geothermal warming and cooling systems in the State of California)

What about the Organic Wine

“Organic farming starts with nourishment of the soil which eventually leads to the nourishment of the planet and ultimately, our palates. Perfectly ripened organically grown grapes offer pure flavor and great fruit intensity” – Town Hall Coalition and Community Clean Water Institute

Yes, of course Frog’s Leap wines are organic, but you won’t find it on the label.  There are a number of wineries that use organic and/or biodynamic farmed grapes in their wines, but opt out of the eco-label.  Partially because wine lovers tend to think that green wines are not first-rate, but a fine wine is a fine wine and wines made from organic grapes are actually higher in quality and Frog’s Leap is not new to organic farming, they have been doing it for 20 years, long before sustainability was part of our everyday vocabulary. They have over 200 acres of CCOF certified organic vineyards and use a water saving soil enhancing technique called dry farming. The farmer’s work the soil by planting cover crops and tillage throughout growing season, which increases the soil’s capacity to hold water creating “a healthy, balanced and complex biological life in the soil” encouraging deeply rooted vines that are stronger and more resistant to disease and certainly “most of the great and historic wines come from non-irrigated grape vines”.

“If you want real pleasure in a wine, if you believe that a wine has a soul, if you believe in the natural quality of wine and its dependence on place, you will be left with the inescapable conclusion, as have I, that we need to grow our vines deeply in their soil.”

John Williams – Winemaker, Frog’s Leap Winery

As for Frog’s Leap wine the earthy Zinfandel has a delicious spice and the sprite crispy refreshing Sauvignon Blanc is one of my new summer favorites, not to mention their rich dark Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a growing reputation. Their Riesling by the name of Frogenbeerenauslese is one worth the pronunciation. I could go on and on about the wines and they have superb wines, but the best way to find out is to try them yourself.

The Bottom Line of the Frog’s being Green

The cost for Frog’s Leap to build the green hospitality center was about five percent higher than what “usual business” practices would have cost.  But after six years the renewable energy systems will be paid for and savings will top $50,000 per month in electricity usage. The cost for making a bottle of wine at Frog’s Leap is the same or less than the industry standard, which makes perfect business sense, is sustainable and good for the earth.

Pondering all this as I sat with my wife and friends enjoying the wonderful organic wines on the splendid deck, basking in the crisp air and sunny blue sky day while overlooking the market gardens, mustard tinted fields and the Mayacamas Mountains in the distance.  Everything about Frog’s Leap made me feel good, the wine, the people, the atmosphere and the philosophy.  Sometimes a place just feels right, you may not be able to pin point exactly why, but here at Frog’s Leap, you know why.

Other Napa Area Wineries with LEED Certified Buildings:

Click here for an expanded North American List of LEED Wineries.

Other organic wines you might enjoy:

LE VIN VINEYARDS AND WINERY
GRGICH HILLS
MASON CELLARS WINERY
PARDUCCI SIGNATURE

3 Responses to “The Frog is Green and the Wine Organic”

  1. shannon varner April 20, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    Great piece brother -keep the info coming! What a smile frogs give me, especially in Napa!

  2. Brian Gerry April 25, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    Thanks for another great post. It’s always fun to see what you’ll be coming up with next. I’m still intrigued with “The Last Sipper” – did you pose that from memory?

    • admin April 27, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

      Thanks for reading! I’d like to say we posed it from memory, but the painting was retrieved from the Internet for reference, using the handy IPhone.