Contributing Writer Jim Conaway gets the dirt, literally, on Napa Valley's organic wine business.
The barn is old, red, and lovely, topped by a droll weathervane – an elongated frog in mid-jump – and surrounded by a riot of blooming mustard and other chest-high nitrogen-fixers. This dense, nutritious jungle overruns the nearby vineyard and nearly hides the name, Frog’s Leap, painted on a fence rail. Despite sheets of black plastic stretched over a very large mound of aging manure, both the winery and grounds looked, the last time I visited, more nineteenth than twenty-first century.
Its owner is John Williams, a bearded, unassuming proponent of organic agriculture for two decades and co-founder of the Rutherford Dust Society - a collective which has as one of its primary concerns the health of the nearby Napa River - and he was talking sustainability. “We got the farming down,” he told me, “and then I realized that there are 35 cars parked here belonging to workers. You don’t want to come off holier than thou when half the things you do still contribute to pollution.”
He has hopes for a parking shed with a roof of solar panels to recharge the batteries of the hybrid cars he wants to one day make available to employees, and one for a tractor that runs on the sun. But that’s another story in the broader narrative of organics, in part an attempt to instill in farmer and consumer a greater appreciation of the taste of place. Inherent in that taste, they say, are healthier communities at both ends of the production cycle – growing, and imbibing.