BUT DOES THE WINE TASTE BETTER?
Sustainable farming is something Shafer is proud of, but does it make a difference in a wine glass?
Since the late 1980s, Shafer has integrated more and more sustainable farming practices into the cultivation of its 200 acres.
The Shafer team started with the use of cover crops, then moved to erecting hawk perches and owl boxes, then to erecting songbird houses throughout the vineyard, producing compost and using mowers and hand sickles to control unwanted vegetation.
"This meant that the high-octane chemicals we'd once used to kill all the underlying vegetation, bugs and gophers wasn't in the soil anymore," says Doug Shafer. "We knew we were doing the right thing for the environment, but I always wondered if it made any difference in the wine itself."
Shafer wouldn't have any data for more than ten years.
"Elias Fernandez, our winemaker, keeps records of the various components in the crushed fruit each year, things like the levels of nutrients such as nitrogen and amino acids," says Shafer.
Two years ago Fernandez showed Shafer a graph of what was happening with key components in the newly crushed fruit.
"It showed that especially over the past six years - since sustainable farming has had a chance to make a difference - there's been a steady growth in the percentage of nitrogen compounds in the fruit," says Shafer. "The result is more successful fermentations that result in cleaner, more pure flavors in the wine."
For the first time the Shafer team is seeing evidence of a direct link between earth-friendly farming and a better tasting glass of wine.
"Clearly something has changed out in the vineyard and it's showing up in the bottle," says Shafer. "I believe that eventually experience will continue to bear out that doing the right thing for the environment is also the best thing for the wine."