Grower Spotlight: Susan Lentz of Mountainview Ranch Vineyard
Dry Creek Valley winegrowers work diligently to promote and practice sustainability in their winemaking. Susan Lentz, winegrower and co-owner of Mountainview Ranch Vineyard, has lived in the region for 25 years and has been certified sustainable under the California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance (CSWA) for the last three years. Lentz took time to share with us a bit about her vineyard, how she came to be a winegrower, and what sustainability entails.
The history of Mountainview Ranch Vineyard
Lentz has grown grapes in Dry Creek Valley since 1989. For years, she lived in Minnesota and dreamed of moving to wine country to start a vineyard. Her late husband, Herbert Polesky was born and raised in California, so the two traveled frequently to the San Francisco Bay area. On one of these trips, Polesky humored his wife and agreed to view some property in Sonoma County. The land sold itself; Polesky himself became so interested in grape-growing that he returned to the area to shop without Lentz. The property they purchased was, at the time, a prune orchard.
Mountainview Ranch Vineyard is at about 800’ elevation on Mountainview Ranch Road off in the hills to the west of the valley floor. Lentz grows mostly cabernet sauvignon–more than twelve acres, two acres of merlot, and about 2 acres of sangiovese. She says that, while Dry Creek Valley is most famous for its zinfandel, the area is well-suited to cabernet sauvignon. Lentz and Polesky planted sangiovese on steep, terraced hillsides where the soil is least fertile. The couple learned about the grape’s ideal growing conditions while visiting vineyards in Chianti. Lentz sells her grapes to a number of wineries throughout Sonoma County, including Dry Creek Valley’s A. Rafanelli Winery, Kokomo Winery, and Quivira Winery.
What does it mean to be sustainable?
To learn about sustainability practices, Lentz participated in a training seminar with a small group of growers. She continues to attend programs with the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley and with the Sonoma County Winegrape Commision. Mountainview Ranch Vineyard uses a vineyard management company, and many of its principal employees have also participated in programs on sustainable growing. Lentz likes the goals of the CAWG’s sustainability certification more than the goals of simply farming organically. “Sustainability encompasses more than what chemicals or fertilizers you do or don’t use. For example, you can be totally sustainable and still have erosion problems,” she explains.
Sustainability looks not just at environmental sustenance, but also economic viability and social sustainability–how employees are treated, how neighbors feel, the impact your growing has on society around you, how your roadways are, what runoff results. Lentz says, “Through this program, we look at integrated pest management; you monitor and treat only when you have to, using the least harsh method that you can, whether that’s beneficial insects or less systemic chemicals. You’re also looking out for your neighbors, concerned about chemical drift.”
In practice, sustainability is an ongoing process. Knowledgeable auditors visit vineyards to confirm that conditions continue to meet the criteria for the certification status. Each year, Lentz fills out a written questionnaire, giving herself grades and listing areas where improvement is needed. Within this program, growers are held to a standard of proficiency and are held accountable to improve each year.
After each year’s harvest, Lentz spends three or four days walking each row of the vineyard to find what needs replacing. After tallying this year’s observations, she bought seeds to plant a cover crop in the alleys. She also put down straw to prevent erosion during the recent rains. “The vineyard is pretty much a scene of inactivity for a couple of months until we start pruning in February. Right now I’m pretty much putting the vineyards to bed. Then I’m going travel and leave it on its own for a few weeks.” After a short but rigorous harvest season, she’s earned a vacation!