The Napa Valley is known the world over for wine making and grape growing, but oddly, it’s never been a particularly environmentally enlightened region. For one thing, growing grapes requires a great deal of water and — unless they’re organic — quite a lot of pesticides, too. Not to mention that the sheer number of visitors makes for a steady and air-clogging stream of cars bumper to bumper on the valley’s few primary roads. And Napa Valley culture, an awkward meld of generations-old viticulture dynasties and arriviste deep-pocketed gentleman farmers, can be slow to change and accept new ways.
So it happens that “green” (and, of course, greenwashing) has come somewhat late to the party in Napa. But come it has, both in agriculture and in hotels. This Spring, the California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance announced the launch of an impressive and much-needed statewide certification program for grape growers. The program allows a winery or vineyard to obtain third-party verification of its adherence to a “process of continuous improvement” in the adoption and implementation of sustainable winegrowing practices.
Meanwhile, the rash of new luxury resorts, spas, and boutique hotels that have been opening over the past five years are as a rule much greener and more sustainability-conscious than those built, say, in the 80s or 90s. The three-year-old Gaia Hotel and Spa, for example, was the first LEED-certified gold property in the U.S., and newer resorts like Solage and the Silverado Resort have put in place all sorts of environmentally friendly initiatives. (At Solage, for example, the room service waitstaff tool around the property on bicycles.)
The latest arrival on the scene, Bardessono Hotel and Spa, isn’t so much catching up, as surpassing rival properties. One of only a handful of hotels in the U.S. to achieve platinum LEEDS status, Bardessono is green through and through, from the rammed-earth walls and recycled materials it’s built from to its state-of-the-art energy system, fed by 900 solar panels and 82 geothermal wells, that produces so much energy last year they had to sell some of it back to PG&E.
Developer Phil Sherburne, who grew up on an Oregon dairy farm and was a semi-famous student organizer in the 1960s, has earned plenty of green cred for his efforts. Robert Redford was one of the first celebrity guests, and Toyota used the hotel’s conference facilities to launch the new redesigned Prius.
Built on and taking its name from one of Yountville’s prime agricultural homesteads, the ranch farmed for generations by the sprawling Bardessono family, this luxury boutique hotel and spa is laid out in such a way that guests spend almost every waking moment outdoors, which makes for a healthy vacation (my specialty), as well as a green one. The rooms, which are clustered in separate pod-like buildings, are designed for almost complete privacy; you honestly don’t have to see your fellow guests if you’d prefer not to. And the gardens are laid out in an airy, pseudo-Zen fashion with rock-tiled paths meandering between stone-lined stream beds that tempt you to get at least a little bit of exercise. Among the many water features is a Stonehenge-like fountain that’s eerily breathtaking at night.
The spa at Bardessono is uber-green too. It’s worth it to pay a little extra for the vinotherapie massage, which features light, aromatic Chardonnay grapeseed oil and leaves you limp as a rag but greaseless enough to hop straight in the pool. The pool is solar heated, with enormous enclosed pillow-strewn cabanas reminiscent of a seventies Middle Eastern-themed restaurant that keep you out of the sun if you’re UV-shy.