Friday, January 2, 2009
I wanted to share an article I wrote for the CA&ES Outlook Magazine (College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences alumni publication)
An earthy undertone
Viticulture and enology graduate helps a family winery go green
For Sarah Cahn Bennett, making good wine is a way of life.
Bennett grew up on her parents’ Navarro Vineyards winery in Anderson Valley, in Mendocino County, California. Her parents started the sustainable vineyard in the 1970s with the perfect Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay their main objectives. As their business grew, so did their selection of fine wines. Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Muscat Blanc joined the lineup, and children Sarah and Aaron became part of the Navarro team. After achieving a bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. Mary’s College, Bennett set her sights on a master’s degree in viticulture and enology at UC Davis.
“Sarah knew exactly where she was going to go, exactly what she was going to do,” said viticulture and enology professor Doug Adams.
Adams’ research into the development of tannins in the skins and seeds of red wine varieties was a good fit for her interests. Bennett and her fellow students collected wines from California, Oregon, and Washington and compared the phenolics of the wine, including tannin which is found in grapes and wine. Bennett then began to look at how that research could be incorporated into winemaking methods.
Bennett now applies this knowledge to Navarro’s selection of Pinot Noirs. Her research helps the winemaking process, and adds a scientific scale to taste and perception.
“We measure many of these wines so that we have real number comparisons between areas,” Bennett says. Other Anderson valley vineyards use the results of Bennett’s assay to articulate what makes wine from their region unique.
Part of what Bennett believes makes Navarro Vineyards special is its commitment to sustainability. Along with avoiding the use of herbicides and pesticides on their land, Bennett has introduced a flock of Babydoll sheep to the vineyard. These miniature sheep have been extremely effective in controlling unwanted plant growth beneath the vines. The sheep, too short to do any damage to the fruit or vines, clean out sucker shoots and weeds that would otherwise be very difficult to reach.
Bennett and her family believe that sustainability stretches further than the field. Navarro Vineyards is committed to employment practices that establish loyalty and a sense of ownership for their workers. All Navarro Vineyards employees are full-time members of the company with full benefits.
Bennett recognizes the advantages that her time at UC Davis gave her. “I feel like I now know a good portion of the people in the industry,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to be in the wine industry. UC Davis was the perfect opportunity to help make that happen.”
- Elisabeth Kauffman