by Holly Madrigal
You could be forgiven if you only gain a glimpse of the garden at Parducci Wineries as you drive past on Highway 101 near Lake Mendocino. The fifteen acre garden pasture, located just off the road holds a vast permaculture system that intertwines and produces benefits for wildlife, vegetable production, employees and of course excellent Parducci Wine. Parducci is the oldest, continually operating winery in Mendocino County. Development of this garden and livestock operation was launched in 2012 when new owners, the Thornhill Family hired Jess Arnsteen to turn this little used patch into an organic garden.
The garden now produces vegetables, eggs, lamb and pork for the sixty Parducci Employees and their families. Mendocino County’s temperate climate allows for year round growing and when I visited they were harvesting asparagus, cilantro, lettuce, brussel sprouts, broccoli, beets and winter squashes. Insect and pests are kept in check by a roving band of two hundred chickens. During peak laying time the hens provide a dozen eggs a week to each of the Parducci employee families.
The garden crew is up early on harvest day to gather the best produce. The tasting room patio holds a display table for the days offerings. Employees stop by and fill brown paper sacks with their bounty. “Everything here is just so much better than the store.” Says Betsy Wildberger “It really cuts down on our grocery bill.” Philipo Rivero loves the broccoli and tomatoes. His wife has started making tea with the fresh lemon grass that Jess grows in a greenhouse on-site. A few times a year the employees get farm harvested pork and lamb. Jess’s wife, Erin, now shares recipes for the less common produce. She often makes a small snack to share using seasonal ingredients. Mint chocolate cookies and frittata muffins were recent offerings. “We have more eggs than we know what to do with at the moment.” Jess laughs.
Arnstee is continually learning new management techniques to improve and enhance the garden. The resident sheep graze and fertilize the meadows as pigs twice their size root out invasive blackberry vines. Natural predators like blue birds and owls are encouraged to make a home amongst the Parducci vineyards. These birds keep rodents and other pests to a minimum. The pomace from the vineyards is composted and spread as fertilizer amongst the crops and below the olive and fruit trees.
Large hedgerows line the planting areas of both garden and vineyard. Arnsteen has filled these hedgerows with plants that encourage pollinators and create habitat for beneficial species. To promote butterflies Jess added milkweed to these hedgerows. One morning as he nestled the new milkweed plants into the soil a Monarch butterfly alit on a leaf and began to lay her eggs. “That was a special moment,” Jess says.
Parducci produces over 600,000 tons of grapes a year to be used in their winemaking. The process utilizes a great deal of water. The Thornhill’s turned the usual paradigm on its head by extensively treating their wastewater with natural means as opposed to chemical methods. The sugar-laden water is piped to “trickle towers” that oxygenate the flow as it passes through plant roots. Plants and natural bacteria filter out unwanted components. The water continues on its path of multiple filtrations, which end in a lower pond. The pond teems with wildlife, hosting birds, turtles, frogs and dragonflies. An ecosystem has evolved around this water system. Arnsteen has planted the area with complementary water grasses and reeds that provide further water “finishing”. A fountain made of an old farm cement mixer pours the cleaned water into a meandering stream. The effect is one of peaceful serenity.
Parducci sees the production of their award winning wine not just as a skill but as part of an interconnected natural system. So next time you drive by on highway 101 consider stopping to visit this sustainable oasis.