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Our Path to Sustainability

Starting in our first year of ownership, we undertook a study and comparison of all the vineyard and wine certification programs operating in the US, of which there were ten.  We also studied all other national sustainability and organic farming certification programs.  We then read up on all of the developing theories on regenerative farming and climate friendly farming.  Finally, we started researching all of the published and available impact Life Cycle Analyses (LCAs) related to vineyards or wine, with a special focus on carbon footprints.  We reviewed LCAs across all three scope levels and all boundary conditions.  In many ways it was like pursuing another PhD. Out of all of this work and research we have found our own way forward that concentrates on the quality of the fruit, the protection of the climate and the regeneration and protection of the soils and the land.  This we do because it seems right to us, with or without any certifications.  To help keep us honest at Sei Querce, we submit our work as stewards to the scrutiny of four different certifying agents. Becoming and staying certified is a pain in the bottom. It takes a lot of time, documentation and money. But in the end, we are not looking to take short cuts, we want to do this right.

In addition to the four certification programs below, an exciting new certification program, Climate Adaptation Certification, is being developed by the California Land Stewardship Institute.  They are using the USDA’s carbon capture model as originally developed by the Colorado State University as the baseline model. We are in the small group of Sonoma County vineyards who will pilot the program.  We support the inclusion of direct carbon footprint thinking into winegrowing and we are financially sponsoring CLSI to hopefully speed the development of the program. After all, relative to global warming… times ‘a wasting.



The Fish Friendly Farming program began in 1999 in Sonoma County under the sponsorship of the Sotoyome Resource Conservation District in Santa Rosa to help farmers in the Russian River watershed understand and improve their farming practices that were negatively impacting the river habitat for endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout. Today the program is based in Napa, is sponsored by the California Land Stewardship Institute, and has grown to cover a broad range of water management and erosion issues. To become certified, the property manager attends four workshops, prepares a Farm Conservation Plan, hosts an on-site review with CLSI staff and then undergoes an on-site audit. FFF’s focus is not on the vineyard, but rather on how whole property is managed relative to issues that will lead to downstream erosion and water quality issues. We completed its first FFF certification in late 2012.


The Partnership for Sustainable Pollination operates the self-certification Bee Friendly Farming program, nationwide. The program has applicants examine a number of their pest-treatment and hedgerow planting activities to encourage decreased use of neurotoxin pesticides and increased incorporation of flowering plants into cover crops and hedgerows for the benefit of both honeybees and native pollinators.  New leadership at BFF is now upgrading the certification standards. We completed its self-certification in 2012.


Using the 14-chapter Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices handbook, participants examine and rate their practices for environmental soundness, economic feasibility and social equity. The handbook was derived from prior work in the Lodi Rules. To become certified as a CCSW, the participant’s ratings and operations are reviewed in an on-site audit by a third party inspector. The sustainability assessment targets the entire operation. In the case of winegrowers, the entire property is examined, even if not relating directly to the vineyard operations. Of the 535,000 winegrape acres planted in California, about 12.3% are certified as CCSW. Immediately following our purchase, we began establishing sustainable practices. At the end of our first year of operations, we became the first certified vineyard in California that uses a third party vineyard manager. To achieve this we had to encourage our independent vineyard manager to also become certified, so that together our entire operation could be certified as sustainable. The CCSW certification requires that each year we update our evaluation and continue to improve our operations. A CCSW vineyard can be farmed conventionally, organically or biodynamically.  We completed our first CCSW certification in early 2012.


Starting in 1990, the USDA worked to develop standards for a nationwide organic certification program (National Organic Program­) and then to build constituent support for it.  The NOP was finally adopted in 2000, covering all food types, not just wine grapes and wine.  In 2014, we became a certified organic farm under the NOP using CCOF as our third party certifying agency.  We began farming completely organically in 2011, but could only be certified in 2014 after a three-year transition of not using any non-certified inputs in our vineyards. We learned a great deal in this process including the frequent conflicts between organic and other sustainable practices. From our experience, we’ve come to see that there are two schools of organic practices: hard-organics where the practitioner follows the least constraining version of the NOP (and permitted chemicals) and soft-organics where the practitioner goes beyond the cheapest set of practices and attempts to reach a higher level of truly natural practices and lessening carbon footprints. In our 2020 CCOF inspection, we were pleased to see the inspector finally ask about practices relating to overall land use and not just the inputs to the fruit.

Our Land Conservation Plan

Beyond a program specific certification, we also developed an overall land conversation plan, which set the tone for what have been doing for a decade now.  It has been very rewarding to engage in a personally directed, large-scale conservation effort. The nearly 600 acres of Sei Querce provide a wide range a bio-systems and habitats from commercially farmed vineyards on the valley floor to an undisturbed year round blue-line creek flowing through a nearly in accessible canyon of undisturbed oaks, firs, pines, bays and madrones.  Today, we conserve areas of the property without any development activity for the deer, coyotes, foxes, hogs, skunks, mountain lions, and wild turkeys to roam.  The prior owners told of earlier times when the ranch was also populated with larger wild animals including bears and even moose. They recounted of regularly fishing in the year round stream. Today, no fish remain. Looking ahead, how much we can achieve as an island of bio-civility remains to be seen since we are surrounded by energized bio-indifference. Still, it is our fervent aspiration to help Sei Querce return at least part way back to a more natural and balanced ecology.


VALLEY FLOOR: Two blue-line streams descend from the surrounding hills and converge to form our western property border of nearly 2400 feet on the valley floor. The creek is a seasonal tributary to the Russian River locally called Fay Creek.  To repair erosion and damage inflicted by indelicate farming practices of the past, we completed: (1) a major restoration of the over 1500’of creek, (2) a creekside riparian corridor and (3) a relocation of the road away from the creek bank (at the cost of reduced plantable acreage, a cost we consider fair when the balance of our larger natural environment is considered).

In the course of these three projects, we removed six buildings, all of which sat within zero to 15 feet from the creek bank. Wood from four of the buildings (including a 100-year-old barn) was carefully reclaimed for use on later projects. Two bridges were installed: one over a former wet crossing and the other, made from two recycled railroad flatbed cars, to finally reconnected the Ellis and Fay portions.


HILLSIDE: Above the valley floor are nearly 500 acres of rolling hillsides that ascend from 250 to 1300 feet elevation. These hills are crossed by about five miles of farm roads. At the time of purchase, the roads were in serious disrepair and were the source of considerable unnecessary erosion. Through nearly all of the dry season of 2011 and 2012, we re-graded the roads to provide appropriate run-off control, installed rock-line drainage ditches where needed, added or replaced uncountable culvert crossings, repaired numerous wet crossing, and applied a new road base to nearly all of the farm roads. The road base was extracted from our own on-site quarry saving many tons of carbon pollution shipping in road gravel.

Biotic And Water Conservation Plans

Beyond our efforts taken and continuing to restore and protect the land assets of Sei Querce, conservation attention has also been turned to various biotic resources. Nearly 100 mature oak, elder, bay, black walnut and madrone trees have been inventoried and variously pruned and health assessed. These trees are a major heritage of the ranch and serve as a backbone for significant habitat restoration. Dangerously weak or diseased trees were removed and other trees were cabled to preserve their majestic and biologically valuable canopies.


When any tree is felled, whether because of disease or safety concerns, it is assessed as for potential re-use in our prospective building projects. As the trees are felled they have been partially milled into cants and dry stored, pending final milling specs. Use of our on-site timber will range from structural beams and posts to possible paddock and garden fences. Approximately 50 cants of wood have been prepared.


The original potable water system of a natural hillside spring was completely redeveloped and expanded to an interconnected system of four springs. Spring water storage has been expanded by nearly 60,000 gallons to maximize capture of all excess spring production.

Pocket and Kincade fires (2017 & 2019)

On the heals of all the early work from 2010 to 2016, we were hit directly by both of the great wine country fires, occurring at the ends of harvests–The Pocket Fire of 2017 and the Kincade Fire of 2019.  We were burned, recovered and then reburned.  Amazingly, we lost no major structures and no vineyards, though the loss to our uncultivated landscape was substantial.  Now comes the hard decision, what is the most sensible approach to repairing or mediating the property?  Should we work to have it return to its former pristine California oak woodland habitat or leave it to allow the natural repopulation from the more natural but visually cruel fire ecology?