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Winery Raises Bar For Sustainable Winemaking In California

The Paso Robles region in California has been a hotbed for sustainable winemaking for over a decade. The number of vineyards that use some form of eco-friendly business operations grows every year. 

Deep in the heart of this California wine paradise is Ancient Peaks Winery. Opening in 1999, it sits on a 14,000-acre ranch in Santa Margarita, CA. It grows an extensive range of grape varieties for its wines, which the business has been doing sustainably for quite some time. 

Ancient Peaks’ land is a natural marvel. The Margarita Vineyard was planted in 1999, becoming a model for sustainability in grape cultivation and winemaking. The land heralds the five different types of soil that produce such lush harvests and tasty wines. 

Paso Robles is close to the Pacific Coast, where the air temperature is cool, the perfect place for grapes to thrive. Such great soil has to be conserved, prompting Ancient Peaks to pursue several eco-friendly initiatives.

Photo Courtesy Ancient Peaks Winery

The owners of Santa Margarita Ranch took over the vineyard’s lease in 2005 from the Robert Mondavi family, the original planter. From there, Ancient Peaks Winery was born. Continuing the sustainable operations, the owners expanded their practices for water and energy conservation, natural pest and vegetation management, renewable energy generation, and wildlife conservation. 

Water and energy efficiency is a top priority. The winery uses infrared monitors to track leaf moisture, which helps with timed irrigation. It also cut out overhead sprinklers, opting for drip irrigation, and wind machines were installed for frost control

What stands out the most are the solar plants installed in 2016. According to the company website, they currently produce more electricity than Ancient Peaks consumes, at around 30% in excess power.

The solar energy generated at the property is fed into the grid to help serve area customers during peak periods.  

Co-owner Doug Filipponi said it’s better for the environment and more economical for the business. “It just feels good to reduce our carbon footprint, produce renewable energy, and provide power to the community when it’s needed most,” he added.

Photo Courtesy Ancient Peaks Winery

One of Ancient Peaks’ most unique sustainability measures is seaweed as fertilizerAccording to vineyard manager Jaime Muniz, the winery has used it for over a decade. It’s shipped from Nova Scotia in a juice form, then sprayed on damaged vines or leaves. The nutrients in the seaweed can enhance grape plant growth between 50 to 60%

“Using a natural fertilizer like this also helps keep the soil healthy,” said Muniz. “That’s good for the vines, and it’s good for the planet.” 

The vineyard uses natural pest and vegetation management to keep insects, rodents, and invasive weeds at bay. The winery operators promote habitats for owls, raptors, bats, and wildcats because these animals eat rodents that might snack on grapes and vines. 

There are 100 owl boxes and 16 raptor perches to attract the birds of prey, and bat boxes are used to attract insect-eating bats, keeping the moth population in check.

Instead of using herbicides to stop weed growth, a flock of goats acts as natural lawnmowers, providing a cleaner, minimal impact on the land.

Photo Courtesy Ancient Peaks Winery

Oak tree preservation has also played a role in Ancient Peak’s biodiversity promotion. When Margarita Vineyard was planted, it conformed to the contours of the land. No trees were removed in the process. Today, rotational grazing has helped native grasses and young oak trees thrive. Herds of cattle will eat one field and then move to another to stop overgrazing.

“With rotational grazing, we give the native grasses a chance to reseed while clearing away some non-native species,” said co-owner Karl Wittstrom. “It also allows young native oak trees to sprout and thrive.”     

Ancient Peaks’ work in sustainable winemaking has earned them significant recognition. It won the Sustainability in Practice Certification for Margarita Vineyard in 2010 and continues to serve as a model for other sustainable wineries in California and abroad.   


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