The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: McFadden Farm and Vineyard

Sustainability Series: McFadden Farm and Vineyard


July 24, 2011

McFadden Farm and Vineyard is a small family-run operation located in Northern California’s Pottery Valley, an area with a range of native and cultivated plants that thrive in the rich, deep soils on the edge of the Mendocino National Forest. Founded by Guinness McFadden in 1970, the farm is dedicated to growing and selling a wide variety of organically grown specialty foods and wines. We talked to John Cesano, McFadden Vineyard tasting room and wine club manager, about the importance of establishing and enjoying a sustainable relationship with nature through thoughtfully produced food and wine.

How does your business define sustainability?

McFadden Farm in Mendocino County’s Potter Valley has been growing organically for over 40 years. Sustainability for McFadden Farm and Vineyard means growing with business practices that allow healthy continuing productive yields beyond this generation’s needs.
How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

While many businesses, including vineyards, farms and wineries are coming to appreciate the value of sustainability, Guinness McFadden has grown his grapes, herbs, and grass-fed beef organically from day one, over 40 years ago. At McFadden Vineyard, delicious, healthy, natural, organic, sustainable wines and foods are our focus.

Guinness McFadden has set up a healthy, sustainable relationship with the 500 acres of land he stewards. Not only does he raise his food organically, he practices energy, water, and material sustainability. McFadden Farm has an operating hydroelectric power plant and solar panels providing more energy than the farm needs – there’s enough to power the homes of over 100 additional families.

By dry farming a portion of the farm’s vineyards, water is conserved while allowing more diversity in the winemaker’s toolbox of flavors as dry farmed and irrigated grapevines produce juice of remarkably different character. Speaking of diversity, bio-diversity is key to sustainable organic farming, and Guinness rotates cover crops, grows seven different grape varietals, over a dozen different herbs, and garlic, plus a few four legged friends, all organically and sustainably. The relationship to nature here is palpable.

While recycling is better than waste, reusing is better still. What can be repaired is repaired. Glass is recycled, wine labels are earth-friendly, and point of sale packaging in the tasting room is constantly evaluated to provide consumers with a better, more consistently green experience.

The McFadden Vineyard tasting room in Hopland carries not just the wines made from our organically grown grapes, but our organic herbs, garlic, and grass-fed beef from the Potter Valley farm. We also carry the goods of other sustainable local artisans in our tasting room, organic olive oils, marinades, our own organic wild rice, and culinary pottery like garlic cellars, butter keepers, steamers and more. The choices we make allow our customers to share in our sustainable choices.

Our commitment to sustainability sees us develop relationships with our suppliers; they become our partners in our goals, searching out the business solutions that fit our needs. In the coming months, we will be moving from recyclable cardboard wine carriers and paper bags to reusable fabric carriers and bags, and from foil logo stickers to a reusable ink stamp for our packaging. These are small examples of the constant desire to be authentic and consistent in our sustainability, our organic-ness, our bio-diversity, and our “green-ness.”

What are your short term and long term goals?

Short term, we continue to demonstrate the superior taste and quality of organic farming. Our visitors to our tasting room, our wine club members, the folks who have wines and organic herbs or garlic or culinary quality herb holiday wreaths shipped to their homes, taste and appreciate our choices. Long term, Guinness would like to see his children carry on what he has created, for McFadden Farm to continue to produce sustainably.
Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

It is the small things that make the big impacts. I see them every day in the tasting room; people who hate manipulated wines are amazed to find a Chardonnay that hasn’t seen oak or undergone malolactic fermentation. Instead of using winemaking tricks to hide bad fruit, we celebrate our incredible fruit and let it shine. 

People don’t have to know that they are making earth-friendly, green, sustainable, or organic choices, but our commitment to an environmentally conscious ethos sees customer after customer engage with our wines.

Recently, all of the Hopland tasting rooms took part in a Passport weekend, the biggest weekend of our year. We cooked our own organic grass-fed beef in a trio of our own herbs and herb blends right outside our open back door under a tent for the cooks. Visitors for Passport weekend left the tasting room with lots of beef and herbs to pair with our delicious organic wines that they bought.
How do you measure your progress?

At the end of the day, we ask, does our wine and food make people happier? When we notice something that can be improved, we make those improvements. That the greener choice is sometimes less expensive is just a bonus.
Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

Consumers can connect to small family farmers with vision and a connection to the land. With white wines running $16 to $18 a bottle, and red wines running $19, supporting quality family farmed sustainable wines is now both easy and affordable.

In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom