Jacuzzi Wines and Cline Cellars: "Beyond Organic" Winemaking

Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch

The name Jacuzzi may be most often associated with spas and hot tubs, but in the Carneros region of Sonoma, California, locals know that the family surname also means great wine.

Vineyard owner Fred Cline--the grandson of Valeriano Jacuzzi--began making wine even before he was even old enough to drink it. At the tender age of 13, his grandfather made sure he learned his way around a vineyard. When Cline received his $9,000 inheritance from his grandfather in 1982, he promptly started Cline Cellars; by 2001, he was practicing sustainable farming. A few years later, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards -- which today is making some very green wine -- opened right across the street from Cline Cellars on CA-121.

Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch

No Hot Tubs Here

Jacuzzi Vineyards was started to honor the family name and Cline's grandfather, after whom its flagship wine, Valeriano, is named.

The family first made their mark with the construction of the very first enclosed-cabin monoplane during the 1900s. In 1925 they revolutionized California's orange grove industry (and the agricultural industry, for that matter) by creating the first submersible pump. From there it was just a hop, skip and a soak to the hydrotherapy tub...and then of course, hot tubs in the 1960s!

This doesn't stop Cline from making light of his beginnings. "The Jacuzzi [spa and hot tub] business that my grandfather was in had sold in 1979. I got $9,000 from the sale. The sale was $70 million but it's an Italian family...there's a lot of people," jokes Cline.

A visit to Jacuzzi Family Vineyards is like a direct flight to Italy. Set atop 190-acres, the vineyard overlooks wetland preserves and other vineyards in Carneros-Sonoma, punctuated by a rustic Italian stone villa housed with both wine- and olive-oil-tasting. And as expected, Jacuzzi is bubbling with Italian varietals like Barbera, Pinot Grigio, and Sangiovese. But it's the Valeriano that takes the spotlight. Bold and rich with cherries and leather, it's complex enough to stand next to almost anything -- but the stronger the taste of pairing the better.

Cline Cellars, on the other hand, feels anything but Italian. The grounds are reminiscent of what was great about Napa back in the early 1970s, before it went all Bottle Shock. The property -- a registered historic site -- was the location of Mission San Francisco de Solano until it was moved to the town of Sonoma in 1823. The winery produces award-winning Rhone-style wines, and after trying a bottle of their Ancient Vine Mourvèdre, it's obvious why. It's plum full of dark fruit and chocolate with highlights of eucalyptus, which comes from their grapes grown in sand dunes surrounded by eucalyptus trees in Oakley. The perfect pairing for this wine? Any favorite sweet, especially cocoa.

Way Beyond Organic Farming

Both vineyards, of course, use only non-synthetic pesticides. As Cline explained, "Just because you have pests, doesn't mean you have to get rid of them. We don't want to farm in a sterile environment." For example, they use cover crops such as barley and oats to provide a haven for beneficial insects such as Predator Mites. The cover crops also mean the vineyards do not need to be "disced," or cultivate with a plow that turns and loosens the soil with a series of discs. This process actually hurts the soil and is often corrected with a synthetic pesticide.

"We'd be considered "organic" if we wanted to follow the rules of the government," said Cline. "The government tends to mess things up when they get involved," he adds, referring the philosophy held by some farmers and food experts that the label USDA Organic could and should be held to a higher standard. "We are actually more sustainable [than the law calls for] by not following their organic rules."

As a jab to The Man, Cline and others call his method of farming "beyond organic."

Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch

And his efforts in sustainability extend far beyond the vineyard (and its tasty tasty wine). Cline is also the co-founder of the Green String Farm, a "beyond organic" farm located on 140 acres in Petaluma, CA, just west of Sonoma. He started the farm back in 2003 with Bob Cannard who is probably best known by foodies for the produce he provided to Alice Waters' Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley.

Green String "produces vegetables and fruits for a number of restaurants in the Bay Area, and maintains a farm store year-round." It also has an institute, aptly named theGreen String Institute, which educates up-and-coming farmers. Here one will learn many of the same practices used at both vineyards.

Watch our exclusive interview with Fred Cline as he talks about the challenges of going beyond organic in the video below.

Solar-Powered Grapes

Each winery is also 100-percent solar-powered. At Cline Cellars, the winemakers installed a solar-electric system on the roof of its roughly 50,000-square-foot warehouse. Supporting just shy of 2,000 solar panels, the system produces 411 kilowatts, reducing the winery's carbon footprint by 690,000 pounds of CO2 each year. Since wine production is in full swing during the later summer months (when electricity costs are also on the rise), solar power can be as cost effective as it is planet friendly.

One of the biggest challenges with switching over to sustainable farming is controlling the weeds, according to Cline. "If you look out at our vineyard behind us, you can see the weeds growing under the vines. And most vineyards, if you look at them, it's very clean. It's clean because they use an herbicide called Roundup, but we do not like Roundup."

So how does he weed hundreds of acres without it? Conventional farmers might balk at the idea, but Cline has a gentler solution: He uses thousands of sheep and goats to wander the property and graze, ridding the rows of pesky weeds, and doing so much more quickly than field workers can by hand. Added bonus: The ruminants' manure fertilizes the land as they go.

Sustainable agriculture is, of course, better for the local community and better for the climate. But the real question is: What does it do for the grapes? "It makes better wine, but there's a bigger component than that," says Cline, hinting at the connection between agriculture and human health. "What do you want to put in your body?" The answer is imple, of course: beyond-organic wine, please. Who wouldn't raise a glass to that?

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