River Otters In Wine Country

Carla Venezia

January 15th, 2020

River Otters in Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley Wine Country River Otters

When Dario’s great-grandfather, Vittorio, was growing grapes and making wine from fruit sourced around St. Helena in the early 1900s, river otters were a thriving native species in the nearby Napa River and its numerous tributaries. But by 1977, Napa County was omitted from the California Dept of Fish and Game’s list of counties with river otters.

The river otters’ gradual disappearance from the Bay Area was attributed to hunting, trapping, and industrial water pollution and land development leading to reduced wetland habitats.  The devastation of the river otter population was so complete that by 1995, the California Dept of Fish and Game showed virtually no river otters living anywhere in the several counties that make up the San Francisco Bay Area.

With the 1972 passage of the Clean Water Act plus proactive management of watersheds, restoration of wetlands and the efforts of local conservation groups, river otters have made a slow but (miraculously) steady comeback and we couldn’t be happier about it!

Dario first became aware of our local river otters a few years ago when he started spotting them in the Napa River near Calistoga. Ever since, he’s made it his mission to ensure Castello di Amorosa is doing everything possible to support our local river otters–this he does in several ways:

With sustainable agricultural practices, our winery and vineyards are Napa Green-certified, meaning we meet all regulatory components necessary for environmental sustainability, including water conservation and water efficiency. The Castello recycles and purifies its water, so the only runoff is clean (or rain!).  The Castello staff further contributes by ensuring the Castello’s very own Lake Mario and Nash Creek–which lead directly to the Napa River–are ecologically sound and full of happy, healthy fish!

Dario is looking forward to working with Megan Isadore, co-founder and Executive Director of The River Otter Ecology Project—a Bay Area river otter conservation group dedicated to encouraging continued re-population of river otters. The ROEP has “otter awareness” programs for children, field internship programs for teens, and volunteer opportunities for adults in the field and lab. ROEP assesses habitats and conducts field studies, among which include analyzing “scat” (to study the otter’s diet!). The ROEP maintains numerous “otter cams” alongside rivers and creeks which further contribute valuable data.

If you happen to see a river otter anywhere in the Bay Area, be sure to let ROEP know about it–even better if you can provide a photo. And don’t forget to tell Megan that Dario sent you!

For more on otters please visit here.


Honey Bee Harvest

Honey Harvest at The Castle

Carla Venezia

January 6th, 2020

Honey Harvest: Helping the Bee Population

Dario and Georg are always looking for ways to increase the Castello’s sustainability and self-sufficiency while making positive contributions to the environment. Using reclaimed water in our vineyards, creating compost from scraps and recycling every last piece of trash are just a few ways we practice sustainable agriculture while reducing our overall carbon footprint.

Two years ago Georg and Dario decided to look into raising bees. With environmental stresses resulting in dwindling bee populations worldwide, they felt it was doubly important for us to do whatever possible to help sustain the local bee population.

They met with professional beekeepers Shadow and Rana—owners of The Queens Apiary, a local beekeeping service here in the Napa Valley—who agreed to help us raise our own bees here at the Castello!

Shadow and Rana developed their passion for beekeeping while researching treatment for their son’s severe allergies to local pollens. Providing local honey to their son was so effective in reducing his allergies that soon beekeeping became their life! Now their passion is one of our passions, too!

Although bees don’t pollinate the grape vines (and aren’t needed for that as the vines are somewhat self-pollinating), they’re nonetheless an important part of maintaining healthy vineyards, local vegetation and nutrient-rich soil while contributing to our grapes and boosting the local bee population.

In the vineyards, the presence of bees attracts beneficial insects which help to keep vineyard pests at bay. Lady bugs and similar insects act as natural pesticides against the destructive insects, eliminating the need for dangerous chemicals!  What could be better?!

Our bees pollinate the herbs and vegetables as well as our numerous fruit trees—fig, peach, pear, plum and apple—growing in our Castello gardens. In addition, the bees help us to maintain our lush grasses; they pollinate the myriad of wildflowers and berries which grow in abundance in the land surrounding the vineyards, returning rich nutrients to the soil and ultimately, to our vines and grapes.

After harvest, the bees “celebrate” with us by feasting on any grapes and juice remaining in the vineyards (which also contributes to their flavorful honey!), their reward for doing so much for us throughout the year!

The honey produced by our bees is considered to be a “hyper local” estate “wildflower” honey, since the bees collect pollen from within 2-3 miles of the Castello where so many beautiful wildflowers grow, year-round. Our honey has a lovely golden amber hue and is extraordinarily flavorful, with notes of rosemary, lavender and blackberry. We happen to think it’s perfect and believe you will, too!

Castello di Amorosa honey will be available soon in our tasting room–be sure to look for it next time you visit the Castello!

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