Sustainability is Stylish in One of America’s Favorite Towns

After four years of drought in California, John Jordan saw the need to invest in better water conservation at his vineyard and winery in Healdsburg. From smarter irrigation to wastewater reclamation, Jordan Winery has shown dedication to sustainable practices by reducing the amount of water it uses to grow grapes in the heart of the state’s wine country.

“Water is such a scarce resource in California,” Jordan said. “Our reuse of our wastewater was a considerable investment. That is the sustainability effort of which I’m most proud.”

Jordan lives and works in a community with a similar devotion to sustainable practices. Living and working in one of America’s best small towns, business owners in Healdsburg see their passion for sustainability as an opportunity to to provide a “premium” experience and educate their many visitors, said Carla Howell, executive director of the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Bureau.

When Howell moved to Healdsburg 45 years ago, it was just a small town with a strong agricultural industry.

“It’s become a destination. It wasn’t a destination when I got here,” said Howell. “We kind of grew with the wine industry.”

Healdsburg remains small – about 11,000 people call it home. Restaurants, wineries, and vineyards draw visitors from all over the world. Its proximity to the San Francisco Bay Area makes it a popular getaway for urban dwellers feeling the squeeze in the city.

In February, Healdsburg will highlight the sustainable practices of its hotels, restaurants, and farms. I talked with a few of those business owners to understand why sustainability is so important to them.

Evolving with technology at Jordan Winery

Jordan’s parents bought the 1,200 ranch when he was born 43 years ago. Sustainability has always played a part in the operation of the vineyard and winery, Jordan said.

“We want to be good stewards of the land,” Jordan said. “Most of the property … is unplanted. I drive around and enjoy seeing the wildlife. Most of what we have is a preserve.”

The only big change in the winery’s sustainability efforts came when Jordan took over the business in 2006 and started investing more money into the latest technology, said Lisa Mattson, director of marketing and communication for Jordan Winery.

Over the last decade, that has included energy efficient “cool roofs” made from materials that reflect the sun’s energy, refrigeration units, warehouse doors, piping systems, and LED lighting. And it all really has added up.

“These collective measures helped us decrease Jordan’s carbon footprint by 24 percent from 2007 to 2011 – the equivalent to planting 74 acres of pine or fir trees,” Mattson wrote in an email. “Once our energy use reached the lowest possible level, American-made solar arrays were installed in 2012 to power the winery. By 2014, Jordan’s electrical use was fully carbon neutral. Roughly 85 percent of our electricity comes from solar energy and the balance from renewable resources through the Sonoma Clean Power program. Each year, the energy generated from our hillside solar panels is equivalent to saving nearly 62,000 gallons of gasoline or planting nearly 14,000 trees.”

Mattson said Jordan Winery is part of a supportive wine-making region with similar goals. Cooperation has grown in the last several years, culminating, it seems, in a commitment to make Sonoma County the first 100 percent sustainable wine region.

“It’s nice to live in a place that is rooted in agriculture and is committed to finding a balance between preserving natural resources, farming and the importance of wine industry’s contributions to the economy through wine and food tourism,” Mattson said. “To have the entire winegrowing community getting behind an initiative like Sonoma County’s 100% Sustainable Initiative is exciting.”

Blending style and sustainability at h2hotel

In 2010, when Hotel Healdsburg opened h2hotel, new construction provided a way to incorporate more sustainable practices.

“We really wanted a more efficient hotel, at Hotel Healdsburg. We started out with residential lighting that was all on switches and plastic water bottles in the guest rooms,” said Circe Sher, a partner in Piazza Hospitality, which developed and manages h2hotel. “With h2, we added centralized key-operated lighting and water bars of sparkling and flat water for carafes on every floor. Since the building of h2, we have incorporated those changes into HH as well, since they worked so well at h2.”

But their efforts didn’t start with the new build. Guests at Hotel Healdsburg were already hearing about sustainable practices in dining and spa experiences. Hotel staff also educated guests on water conservation in hotel laundry. The hotel also got involved in restoring the nearby creek.

“H2, however, brought us to an entirely different level,” Sher said. “When we were in the concept phase of creating h2, the LEED certification was becoming more known, and striving for that accreditation felt right for us. … The air is cleaner (and) less energy is consumed. The planet is delicate and in Sonoma County we pretty much live off the land, so it makes sense on a lot of levels for guest experience and our values to preserve our planet and the area where our hotel exists. Even if it is a small step, there is opportunity for a lot of people to see and experience how this type of building and practices can be comfortable, beautiful and sustainable.”

Beyond materials, the hotel has nearly eliminated its use of plastic with its water bars. Hotel guests – many of whom are from the Bay Area and work in the tech industry – have responded favorably to h2’s efforts, especially noticing the balance between “aesthetic design, comfort, and sustainability.”

“In the past when a project has been built green it has not always achieved the comforts of a luxury property, but at h2, we are constantly commended for success of being green, but also comfortable and stylish,” Sher said.

SHED uses sustainable practices in Healdsburg

A sustainable ‘food cycle’ at SHED

From the food to the building materials, the owners of SHED, a Healdsburg restaurant, care a lot about incorporating sustainable practices into every aspect of their business.

Coming up on its three-year anniversary, more than 90 percent of the food served at SHED is purchased from farms within a 30 mile radius, said owners (and spouses) Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton. But it’s more than a cafe. It serves as an event space and market.

“We think it’s important to champion sustainable farming practices, because how we grow and eat our food can help reverse climate change, and positively affect our food system,” Daniel wrote in an email. “We do this in many ways – through our sourcing, and also through our educational programming, which includes classes and talks on topics such as no-till farming, biodiversity, soil health, waste-free kitchens, and other sustainability topics.”

From prioritizing organic and sustainably raised ingredients, including produce and meat and seafood, to cleaning methods and waste disposal, SHED covers a lot of ground. Food waste goes back to the owners’ farm in the Dry Creek Valley to be used as compost in the fields that provide a lot of the fruits and vegetables the restaurant uses. They also opt for recycled materials where they can, such as in printing and packaging materials.

“The building was designed to be as green as possible,” Daniel said.

Half of the building’s electricity comes from solar cells. It’s built using mostly recycled steel. And the property includes a rain garden, which catches rainwater on the roof, filters it, and directs it to Foss Creek next door. Even the building’s insulation uses recycled shredded denim instead of fiberglass, Daniel said.

This month, they’re conducting a zero-waste/carbon footprint study to find additional ways to reduce waste, Daniel said.

“We have been committed to land stewardship and sustainability for three decades,” she said. “At SHED, we want to be the future of food, and that means working to support the health of the land above all else. We believe that good farming practices lead to good food. We want to define a cuisine that’s rooted in the sustainable farms and fields of Sonoma County, to really express how our region’s unique ecology, farming practices, and traditions inform the way we source, cook, and eat.

“Our vision was to create a place where the beauty and aliveness of the complete food cycle – the growing, preparing, and eating – would become visible, revealing and reinforcing the path from farm to table, and back to farm.”

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Winery photo via Jordan Winery

Green roof photo via h2hotel

Cafe photo via SHED