The Eco Lover’s Guide to Napa Valley
If there was a heaven on Earth, Napa Valley would be it. Not only is it one of the most beautiful regions in California—there's nothing but mountains and vineyards as far as the eye can see—but it's also home to some of the best food and wine in the country. Napa is renowned for its locally grown food and specialty award-winning wines, farm-to-table restaurants, and scenic road trips. As an Australian visiting this stunning region for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the eco-attitude of the locals, their respect for the land, and their sustainable focus in both their personal and professional lives. The beauty is so spectacular that you want to leave as little impact from your travels as possible. Scroll down to read how you can tour the valley without leaving a footprint.
Taking a road trip through Napa Valley is one of the key reasons people travel there. The winding, mountainous tarmac takes you on a journey through the many vineyards—which you stop at along the way, of course. Many people love to take bike rides through the region, but if you prefer to drive, there are several hybrid vehicles on the market that can reduce your emissions and give you better fuel economy. They’re also quieter, which means you can take in the serenity without the distracting noise of the engine. I drove the new-generation Chevy Volt, which is significantly lighter and faster than previous models (it also has better battery range). Some people think electric vehicles lack power and stamina, but the Volt had no problem grappling the many hills and windy roads of Napa.
Shad Balch, manager of new products and public policy communications for General Motors, said this is one of the many misconceptions about electric vehicles. “People often don’t realize the performance aspects of driving an electric vehicle,” he said. “EVs are—in just about every way—superior to conventional, gas-powered vehicles. They’re smooth, quiet, and very quick off the line. They can fully charge overnight in any regular household outlet. Not to mention the environmental benefits; there are no tailpipe emissions when driving on electricity.”
When the scenery is this pristine, you want to preserve it as much as possible. I was so enamored by the beauty of Napa that I didn’t want to leave a carbon or physical footprint. This meant choosing accommodation that embraced the holistic philosophy, and no one says luxury and sustainability quite like Calistoga Ranch. This exquisite resort truly honors the beauty of its 157-acre surroundings by taking a green approach in everything it does.
Coni Thornburg, general manager of Calistoga Ranch, said the ranch “takes respecting the planet very seriously.” The ranch has locally sourced bath soaps and amenities (these bottles are refilled instead of replaced); chef Bryan Moscatello designs his seasonal menu around the fresh herbs and ingredients in the property's vegetable garden; the entire resort is lit with LED lighting; there are EV charging stations for hybrid cars; and all the water is put back into recycled irrigation.
While it’s easy to dwell in your divine room or take an outdoor shower—I highly recommend this—there are plenty of ways to connect with nature outside the resort, too. Take a hike on one of the trails that follow the natural path of deer—they also walk through the resort each morning at daybreak. You can even take one of the ranch's bikes and visit nearby wineries or explore the shops and eateries of Lincoln Avenue, all without a carbon footprint. Which leads us to our next stop.
There’s nothing sweeter than savoring a glass of wine in the very region it was grown, made, and bottled. This is one of the reasons why Napa Valley wine tastes so good and why thousands flock there each year. But if you’re looking to sample something truly special, book a wine tasting at Cade Estate Winery, the first Gold-LEED-certified winery in California. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) In order to achieve this certification, Cade worked with renowned architect Juan Carlos Fernandez to design a purpose-built sustainable facility using recycled materials such as green concrete, recycled steel, and denim scraps for wall insulation. It’s also completely solar-powered.
Cade takes its sustainable responsibility very seriously; it’s at the core of everything the winery does, even the way it farms its grapes. Cade's cabernet sauvignon and merlot vines are farmed organically. John Conover, winery partner and general manager of the winery, says this choice wasn’t just about the winery itself but about the environment and the planet: “We don’t like the idea of putting chemicals in our bodies, so we don’t want to put chemicals into our wine. We’re the trailblazers in making luxury cabernet from organic grapes, something that hasn’t really been done before.”
Be prepared to eat and drink you way through Napa Valley. There is so much good local produce to savor, and the farm-to-table style is definitely the most popular. This isn’t just another food trend, either. There are so many advantages to eating local: you support the local economy, reduce the carbon footprint, and eat organic, spray-free food, just as Mother Nature intended. It’s also the freshest way to dine, picked straight from the garden and placed on your plate. Most of the food is harvested until it's ripe, rather than being picked green for transportation, which also means it’s tastier and nutrient-dense. I enjoyed a farm-to-table dining experience at the famous Brix Restaurant & Gardens in Yountville, California. I relished every morsel of my wild mushroom dish and glass of cabinet sauvignon overlooking the restaurant's stunning two-acre gardens and orchards that provide all the fresh ingredients for its seasonal menu. Well, when in Napa…
Have you experienced Napa Valley? Where was your favorite place to eat or drink? Do you think there should be more farm-to-table and sustainable restaurants? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Opening Photo: Courtesy Calistoga Ranch