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Growth Industry

Winemakers diversify their portfolios—by planting vegetables

Author John Capone

Frog’s Leap owner John Williams, who has begun planting other crops alongside his vineyard

NAPA VALLEY JUST 40 YEARS AGO was a vastly different landscape from today. Acres of orchards, fields of produce and thousands of oak trees once competed for space with vineyards. However, following the region’s rise to fame on the heels of 1976’s Judgment of Paris—when some Napa wines bested their French counterparts in a tasting—much of this diversity was wiped out in order to produce as many award-winning wines as possible.

But in the past 10 years, the tide has begun to turn. Progressive winemakers have started diversifying their crops. After having soil trouble, John Williams, owner of Frog’s Leap, a winery in the Rutherford district, stopped using chemicals and irrigation, planted acres of fruit and vegetables adjacent to the vines, and allowed cover crops to proliferate. The vintners at Raymond Vineyards, Boisset Family Estates, Trefethen Family Vineyards and Cakebread Cellars were already making similar changes. And before long, all-purpose farm-wineries like Long Meadow Ranch—which raises cows and chickens in addition to growing olives, grapes and vegetables— began to pop up.

Best of all, much of the resulting produce has ended up in stores and on restaurant tables, a boon for a regional dining scene that’s long leaned toward locavorism. Frog’s Leap, for instance, takes produce from its three acres of gardens and sells it at the St. Helena Farmers’ Market. Cooked into a hearty meal, it’s perfect for pairing with—you guessed it—Napa Valley wines.

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