Fred Cline started Cline Family Cellars in Oakley, California in 1982. In 1989, he purchased a 350-acre horse farm in Carneros and moved the winery to Sonoma. For years he farmed his vineyards conventionally. Overtime, he began to explore alternative methods for farming his vineyards. He partnered with soil manager Bobby Cannard, and the two gave birth to the Green String Method of farming.
Cline explains it wasn’t something he witnessed in the vineyard that spawned his desire to alter his farming practices, it was personal. His family, including his seven children, was living at the winery when he learned glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round-Up Weed Killer, is linked to cancer. He made a decision to “place human health and wellness ahead of vineyard and vine productivity and large yields.” However, time and patience proved “that farming naturally also benefited the vineyards and the vine’s long-term health.”
In 2003, Fred Cline teamed up with Bob Cannard, an early adopter of the organic movement in California. Together, Cline and Cannard developed the Green String Method. Cline explains, “Bob took his knowledge and organic farming methods and I took my experience with viticulture and we developed the Green String Farming method that we use today in the vineyards.”
The Green String Method embraces “natural process farming,” which, Cline explains, “is about producing beautiful food and crops that are free from pesticides and artificial chemicals; a focus on soil health is essential to producing a healthy crop.”
The Green String Method uses cover crops, compost, compost tea, crushed volcanic rock and oyster shell mineral supplements to help ensure that the earth is able to grow vibrant fruits and vegetables, and healthy high quality grapes; with a “goal of creating a self-nourishing system where less human intervention yields better quality crops.”
To accomplish this, The Green String Method seeks to work with nature instead of against it in a way described as “beyond sustainable.” Using sheep as weed control and fertilizer, building owl boxes to encourage owls and hawks for insect and rodent control, and the use of cover crops to protect the soil for the elements all work in harmony and eliminate the need for chemicals.
Cline elaborates, “Beyond sustainable is really about improving biodiversity in the soil, keeping a natural ecological balance, and using organic material to enhance the soil and the land. We grow by the motto ‘50% for humans, 50% for nature,’ maintaining an important balance between crops grown for human consumption and crops grown for soil improvement. This approach also benefits the community by preserving green spaces and wildlife habitats, protecting the soils, conserving resources, and stimulating the local economy.”
All of this sounds fantastic, but what about the wine? Cline explains the migration from conventional farming to the Green String Method was expensive, and initially some of the vineyards struggled to adapt. Through time and patience those vineyards are now healthy and thriving. However, it is not an easy path. Cline admits, like all style of farming, vineyard issues arise. A commitment to organic farming results in double the work to naturally control issues conventional farming controls through chemicals. Cline is up for the challenge. He explains, “Today, we try to embrace the problems that nature throws our way and seek innovative ways to work with those natural occurrences in harmony, rather than combat them with harmful chemicals and those methods have paid off tremendously.”
Cline’s Farmhouse Wines take their name from the school house located at the Green String Farm in Peteluma. For years it housed interns from around the globe who came to study the Green String Method of sustainable farming. All of Cline’s estate vineyard wines are cultivated using the Green String Method. Here are two:
2017 Cline Cellars Farmhouse White Blend Sonoma USA ($15): 41% Palomina, 25% Muscat Canelli, 22% Roussanne, 6% Marsanne, 5% Viognier, 1% Riesling; fun and refreshing, kiss of sweetness, loads of tropical fruit, melon, and citrus; easy to drink and enjoy. Purchase direct from Cline Cellars.
2016 Cline Cellars Farmhouse Red Blend Sonoma USA ($15): 39% Merlot, 21% Syrah, 20% Zinfandel, 9% Grenache, 7% Petite Sirah, 3% Mourvèdre; loads of dark fruit and spice, not a complicated wine; open, relax, enjoy; rich and flavorful. Purchase direct from Cline Cellars.
Cline and Cannard’s partnership and vision did not end in the vineyard. In 2008, they opened the Green String Farm – a place where the community can purchase fresh seasonal produce. The store is located on Old Adobe Road in Peteluma and is open 7 days a week, 10am – 6pm in the summer, 10am – 5pm in the winter.