About 15 years ago, Julie Nord’s relationships with her urban neighbors hit something of a nadir.
The problem was exacerbated by the fact that one of her vineyards was located directly behind the town of Yountville, CA.
“They didn’t understand why we did what we did, like why we were spraying, so they’d complain,” she says.
Determined to educate her neighbors, she invited them over.
“We had an afternoon in the vineyard, poured them wine and showed them what was going on,” she says, “and we made sure they had our phone numbers in case they had any questions.”
Her thoughtfulness through the years hasn’t gone unnoticed. Nord, a grower and manager of vineyards in Sonoma and Napa counties, was recently honored by the California Association of Winegrape Growers and Wine Institute with the first annual California Green Medal Community Award.
Educating Employees Too
The award wasn’t just for practices that enhanced relationships with neighbors, but also employees. Nord, who farms 400 acres of family acreage and whose Nord Vineyard Services manages another 400 acres for clients, reimburses employees up to $500 a semester for college classes.
About a dozen employees have taken advantage of the offer, which Nord notes is not entirely without self-interest. Better educated employees are usually better employees period, she says.
But Nord doesn’t stop there, she makes it convenient for her employees by bringing the educators to the farm. Nord received a state grant to pay for it.
“We’ve had an English teacher and a math teacher,” she says.
In fact, one employee who studied not only English but math is now her head manager.
Doing It Sustainably
The Green Medal was also awarded to Nord because she participates in research trials with the goal of farming more sustainably, which benefits the community.
“We farm responsibly, for instance using cover crops to keep the dust down,” she says, noting that they use over a dozen types of cover crops. Back in the day, when her father Will was in charge, he only used a couple.
Not only do the cover crops keep the dust down, they improve water penetration, which allows nutrients to get to the vines’ roots. She’s using much less water than her father did, but that’s also because she takes advantage of technology. For example, she uses moisture probes to practice deficit irrigation.
“You need to manage your cover crops like you do your vines,” she says. “Above all, you have to make sure they’re not competing for water with your vines.”
Because many of their vineyards are on hillsides, Nord has also learned to be creative in limiting erosion. Though she admits that the seed for one of her most successful efforts wasn’t planted by her, or that of another grower, but a friend in the carpet business.
“I was at a Christmas party, and a friend asked if I had any use for old wool rugs,” which caused Nord to wonder if they would be useful in holding down the soil between hillside rows. “The weeds grew right up through them, but they stayed embedded in the soil. I hadn’t thought of it before, but now I love the idea.” ●