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   Preserving a Historic Property in Sonoma's Wine Country   View email in your browser

Winery Keeps the Past Alive
June 2018

Preservationist pair: Harry Wetzel, IV, and father Hank

To the Wetzel familyproprietors of Alexander Valley Vineyards, their estate is more than just a productive asset. It’s a key part of the region’s past, the original homestead of Cyrus Alexander, who gave his name to this world-famous wine valley. Some of the fruit trees on the Healdsburg property are 160 years old, planted by Alexander himself. Harry Wetzel, IV, whose parents, Hank and Linda Wetzel founded the winery, now heads operations for the family business with his brother, Robert. The enterprise manages to make room for their father’s five-acre vegetable garden alongside the renowned vineyards.

Sustainable feast: Wetzel's winery garden

Does the property’s heritage affect your approach to sustainability?
 
I would say yes. There are three historic buildings on this property, and when my grandparents bought it, the structures were all falling apart. It would have been easier, cheaper and quicker to tear them down. But preserving history was important to my grandmother. Originally, the Alexander Valley Schoolhouse, built in 1868, was about a half-mile down the road. It was a school until 1950, then used as a haybarn. My grandmother was concerned that it would catch fire, so she convinced the owner to sell it to her and we moved it here and converted it to a guesthouse. With these old historic structures, something is always breaking, and you can’t just go into town and replace the parts. We’re always trying to preserve the original design, to sustain what was there.


Your dad has really gotten into chickens. Are they making a difference with vineyard fertilization?
 
My dad raises close to 250 chickens in a coop that’s on a trailer. It has a mesh floor, so all the waste goes through. You can tow it to different parts of the vineyard. A door opens and the chickens go hang out in the vineyard and eat bugs and worms, and at night they go back in. We also feed them vegetable waste from the garden. We do little or no fertilizing in areas where the chickens have been. And when they’re laying, we get at least 10 dozen eggs a day. They’re crazy delicious. There’s a lot of demand from local restaurants.

And you keep bees as well. How is the honey?
 
The hives are in various parts of the garden, and we don’t really do it for honey. It’s more for fertilizing the blooming plants on the property. My dad has tried collecting the honey a couple of
times, but it’s full of honeycomb. It would need some work before we could sell it.
 

It sounds like your dad has really caught the gardening bug. Do you see a relationship between the garden and your practices as a CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE winery?
 
My dad started with a card table at the Healdsburg Farmers Market, selling our estate olive oil, and now he has three eight-foot tables. He just loves to garden. He’s known at the market for his lettuces and his corn. He doesn’t make any money. In fact, he says it’s one of the most expensive hobbies you can have, but I love having the diversity on the property. We have a separate garden just for employees, and they can take whatever they want.
 
We also help the Alexander Valley School maintain the student garden. My daughter goes to the school, and gardening is her favorite class. Like the other families, we make sure things stay watered in summer. In addition, we donate about 100 pounds of cardboard for mulching, and we pay our vineyard staff to maintain the school’s grounds. It is a great way to get the next generation interested in sustainability.


You have written that you find it pretty easy to operate sustainably, but surely there have been hurdles?
 
The challenge of sustainable certification is that you’re expected to meet your goals and then improve on them. It can be difficult to constantly improve within a time frame. We have a new production area and I want to get solar panels on that. We’re looking at better options in packaging materials.

Copyright 2018 Wine Institute

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Resources • Publications

Biodiversity Conservation Practices in California Vineyards:  Dive into this handout from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance that explains why biodiversity is important to sustainable winegrowing and how you can conserve and enhance biodiversity on your property. Learn more HERE

California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook:  Download individual chapters or the entire workbook to learn more about sustainability in your vineyard or winery HERE.
Workshops & Webinars:

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Workshop–Tuesday, July 24:  
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