Napa River Restoration: Full Speed Ahead

The Rutherford Dust Society’s groundbreaking environmental restoration project for the Napa River has created a mountain of soil from this world-famous wine region.

“This must be the most valuable dirt in America,” observes project coordinator Gretchen Hayes. “It is truly a mountain of Rutherford Dust, and the greatest wines in America are grown in this coveted red soil.”

Landowners have had the soil removed from steeply eroding river banks in order to provide fish habitat and restore the natural flow of the Napa River through the Rutherford American Viticultural Area.

For the past seven years, a river restoration team headed by Davie Pina, John Williams and Andy Beckstoffer of the Rutherford Dust Society has worked with a wide range of stakeholders to develop a long-range sustainability program for the Napa River as it passes through the Rutherford AVA, between Zinfandel Lane and Oakville Cross Road, south of St. Helena.

Since 1972, the river has cut down as much as 15 feet, creating a simplified channel with degraded fish habitat and severely eroding banks. Despite these conditions, the Rutherford Reach remains the most critical spawning habitat for Chinook salmon in the Napa River.

Twenty-three local growers have volunteered to sacrifice nearly 20 acres of top-quality vineyards in the heart of Napa Valley’s finest AVA to restore the river to a more natural condition.

“Our mission is to work collaboratively with neighbors and agencies to stabilize river banks, reduce the impacts of flooding, protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat, reduce Pierce’s disease pressure on vineyards, and provide ongoing education about the river and its watershed,” says Beckstoffer of the project. “Our goal is a living river.”

Adds Hayes: “This is a pioneering effort – to my knowledge, the most ambitious river restoration project to date proposed on private property in California. The Rutherford Reach Restoration Project is enhancing four-and-a-half miles of the Napa River from the perspective of both protecting private property and the river’s ecological value.”

To date, six landowners have rededicated seven acres of vineyard to the river corridor, worth $2.1 million. Lost grape production over the next 20 years will total $1.6 million.

Public funding critical to advancing this initiative has been provided by the California Department of Fish and Game, the Coastal Conservancy, the State Water Board, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation Salmon Habitat Conservation Fund. Napa County matches all funds raised on behalf of the project and is overseeing construction, which began in 2009 and is being conducted in phases.

In 2009, the David Guggenhime Family and the Quintessa Estate were the first properties  to undergo restoration construction. This past summer, The Ranch Winery, Frog’s Leap, Caymus and Carpy-Conolly Ranch provided for the wholesale setback of agricultural berms into valuable vineyard land to widen the riparian corridor, create refuge for young salmon and steelhead, and attenuate flooding.

In 2011, Emmolo, Mee, Round Pond, Honig and Sequoia Grove will join their neighbors in the river restoration effort, completing the first half of the project between Zinfandel Lane and the Rutherford Cross Road, and at Sequoia Grove vineyards.

Landowners along the Rutherford Reach are dedicated to restoring the river for future generations, and have funded a Channel Maintenance District for the purpose of maintaining the restoration for 20 years.

Posted in Wine and the Environment
Members-only Wine sampler specials delivered straight to your inbox via our Cyber Circle newsletter.

%d bloggers like this: