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Lava Cap Winery: Balancing nature and wine

Lava Cap Winery is located in Placerville, CA, a part of El Dorado County
Lava Cap Winery is located in Placerville, CA, a part of El Dorado County
Courtesy of Solterra Strategies

The exploration of those wineries that are sustainable during the California Wine Industries Down to Earth Month includes those wineries that are Certified Fish Friendly. One Wine Institute member, Lava Cap Winery in El Dorado County incorporates sustainability into their winery and is fish friendly.

The wines of Lava Cap Vineyard are complex and intense showing how elevation plays a significant part in the characteristics of the wines of El Dorado County
Cori Solomon

David and Jeanne Jones originally established Lava Cap in 1981. The first vintage of wine produced was in 1986. The property located in the Sierra Foothills boasts 80 acres with about 55 of those acres being planted with grapes. Today, Charles and Noreen Jones oversee this family owned winery. Their goals are continuing the family winemaking tradition through sustainable practices that improve the environment and at the same time elevate the quality of the wines they produce. For the Jones sustainability is a philosophy that permeates every part of the winery’s business.

As California’s drought persists, the Jones recently purchased a barrel steamer, which cuts down on the consumption of water used to clean barrels. Before, cleaning was done with a high presser water jet using 15 to 20 gallons of water per barrel whereas the barrel steamer uses only one half a gallon of water per barrel.

Other water saving measures utilized at the winery are a drip irrigation system and collecting the rinse water during harvest and reusing that water on the roads for dust control.

Many blocks in the vineyard are dry farmed. Of the 55 acres of vineyards, 15-20 acres are dry farmed. The areas are those with deeper soil and include half of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel vines along with some of their Cabernet Franc grapes.

The grass between each vineyard row is left short and there is no disking. This helps retain water and infiltration while preventing erosion.

Lava Cap is one of a couple of wineries were a weather station has been installed. This station can tract climatic information for the growers in El Dorado County and is able to predict those vineyard areas that are vulnerable to mildew and thus determine the appropriate time to spay. This eliminates excess spraying in the vineyard.

The sprays used for pest, mildew and mealy bug control are organic. The cleaners are all natural, biodegradable and fragrant free. Composting and recycling the pumice, skins and seeds back into the vineyard is part of their conservation plan.

The final aspect for Lava Caps sustainable program is the human factor and having maintained a winery crew for twenty-five years proves that the working environment is very favorable for the employees.

Because the Sierra Foothills is mountainous and populated with more wildlife than one might find at lower elevations, it became important for Lava Cap to recognized the need to pay more attention to their responsibility in preserving their land and those whose natural habitats are dependent upon the well being of this environment. This concept became the basis for Lava Cap to become Certified Fish Friendly. In addition, due to the topography consisting of volcanic soils that can erode easily, Lava Cap established a BMP, best management practices incorporating concepts considered a part of the fish friendly plan.

Fish Friendly certification started in Napa at a time when the vineyards were polluting the nearby rivers. The premises are for each grower to be responsible in the way they use their land. A vineyard must develop a conservation plan that includes concerted efforts to prevent soil erosion and movement, preserve water quality and retain the Natural wildlife habitats.

Fish Friendly certification addresses the concerns of grape growers in dealing with compliance with state and federal environmental regulations such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. It also assists in the management of the grower’s lands using green practices. The program is run by the California Land Stewardship Institute.

Although Lava Cap produces many different wines they are most known for their red varietals especially Petite Sirah and Barbera. In addition they are one of the top producers of Chardonnay in the Sierra Foothills.

The wines I have experienced from Lava Cap display an intensity and complexity that in part is due to the vineyards elevation and terrior in the Sierra Foothills. The mountainous air giving warmth during the day and cool breezes at night also plays a part in their wines character.

Lava Cap Winery’s 2010 Petite Sirah is a wine that emphasizes depth and structure. The Petite Sirah is a blend of 75% Petite Sirah, 19.5% Grenache, 4% Merlot and 1.5% Barbera. With its deep red/purple color there is a bouquet of fragrant fruit, especially that of currants and cherries. This full-bodied wine is rich and intense yet very balanced with hints of vanilla, cherries and currants. There is almost a creamy vanilla quality. The wine is smooth on the finish with a jammy sweetness that I found thoroughly wonderful.

The 2011 Barbera was one of the best I have ever tasted. Its depth and richness was different from any other Barbera I have ever sampled. This wine is full-bodied, intense and velvety with an earthy quality. With its deep color, there were hints of blueberries, cocoa as well as smoky flavors.

The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is another winner. This is another deep red colored wine that has the fragrance typical of Cabernet with its earthy cherry aromas. The wine is rich, earthy with a wonderful cherry flavor. On my second day of sampling the wine a subtle sweetness was quite apparent.

After tasting these wines and knowing the dedication and integrity Lava Cap places on improving the winery and vineyards environmental footprint, I am intrigued to delve deeper into discovering more about the wines of Lava Cap.

For more information:

Lava Cap Winery

2221 Fruitridge Rd
Placerville, CA 95667

(530) 621-0175

Tasting Room Hours:

11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. daily except holidays

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