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With the decade-long wine boom continuing to benefit vintners throughout California, the traditional rivalry between Napa and Sonoma has mellowed in recent years. Competition is heating up anew, however, as producers try to grab seats on to the environmentally conscious bandwagon. In short, recycling is hot; sustainable is hot; organic is hot. And two brand-new wineries in particular are pushing their pursuit of vino green-ness to noteworthy extremes.

In one corner, so to speak, sits the dazzling Green Hectares winery on Highway 29 just north of Yountville, in the heart of Napa Valley. The winery literally sparkles—thanks to an exterior fashioned from 67% recycled green, amber and clear wine bottles which were sterilized, crushed and then bonded with an epoxy derived from organic corn syrup. Inside the facility there is an almost surreal hush, the result of recycled-tire floors, cork-lined walls and a unique policy that requires all employees to spend half of their working hours engaged in either yoga or transcendental meditation.

“We believe we are making the most peaceful, holistic wines on the planet,” says Green Hectares communications director Arnolda Ziffel, while sitting with one foot behind her head, the other across her lap. The winery’s inaugural release, 250 cases of the Green Hectares 2005 “Downward Dog” Napa Valley Merlot, will retail for $199 per one-liter tetra-pack. The price is steep, Ms. Ziffel admits, but she adds that 100% of the Merlot revenue will be used to fund construction of an in-floor treadmill for the winery tasting room. “This revolutionary technology will help capture the kinetic energy of tourists,” she explains, “which will be converted to electricity and eventually make Green Hectares completely carbon neutral.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Mayacamas mountains, recent Mendocino transplant Frank “Yeasty” Lees insists that his new venture, Howling Moon Project, will raise the bar on green wine even higher. Not one to mince words, the dreadlocked, bearded vintner says, “Green Hectares makes wussy wine. They can stick their zero carbon footprint up my organic butt, for all I care.” Indeed, Mr. Lees is committed not simply to sustainable winegrowing and heightened conservation, but rather he is a proponent of bio-dynamic viticulture. Pioneered by the controversial scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner, bio-dynamic farming hinges on complex interpretations of earth and life forces, and employs practices such as burying manure-filled ram horns in the vineyard soil.

Howling Moon Project is unorthodox, to say the least. The winery has both a witch doctor and a voodoo practitioner on staff and Mr. Lees, who showers only when a full moon is visible, often consults a Ouija board for vinicultural guidance. The winery itself was cobbled together from a variety of discarded materials, including several thousand back issues of Wine Spectator that Mr. Lees says were donated by retailers who couldn’t even give them away. There are no “facilities” in the facility; employees are encouraged to do their biological business out in the vineyard. “When we say we put our heart, soul and guts into our wine, we mean it.” he notes.

Due out this summer, the first Howling Moon Project wine, a 2006 “Zeitgeist White” field blend, is a cloudy golden elixir that is unfined, unfiltered and comes in two distinct packages. Zeitgeist White Classic ($39.99) is racked directly from stainless-steel tanks into magnum-sized clay amphorae, hand-etched (right down to the government warning). Zeitgeist White Moderne ($18.99) comes in a 3-liter food-grade mylar pouch with reclosable spout—essentially a bag-in-box wine without the box.

Industry analysts are watching the first releases of these two wineries carefully. How consumers and critics react could affect how vintners in Napa, Sonoma and beyond approach the question du jour: “How green are we?”

 

 

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   Fertilizer is cheap and plentiful at the
   Howling Moon Project.

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