Co-proprietors and winemakers Pamela Bianchini-Storrs
and Steve Storrs. Photo by Ted Holladay
BY CHRISTINA WATERS
Walking the winery trails tucked away behind Corralitos, it’s easy to feel that you’ve stumbled upon an environmental demo farm. Hidden Springs Ranch, home to Storrs Winery, sits in a panoramic hollow, generously populated with deer, hawks, owls, bats and beneficial insects. From the start, Pamela Bianchini-Storrs and Steve Storrs wanted to encourage the helpful animals, as well as native plants and pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Applying principles of sustainable and organic growing to their vineyard practice was a reflection of their winemaking philosophy—to step back and let natural processes do what they do best.
This innovative alliance between agriculture and nature is already an estate vineyard, and by summer’s end, the Storrs, who have long offered a downtown Santa Cruz tasting room, will open their vineyard for the first time for tastings in a newly constructed “zero energy,” solar-powered winery and offer walking tours through the surrounding acres.
The aim is for the new building to produce as much energy as it uses, so insulation is key to the design. For the walls, “straw bales weren’t efficient enough, and so we’re using honeycombed foam, filled with expanding foam made from soybeans,” says Pamela. “The roof will be extraordinary, too, made of highly insulative concrete panels.” While the “zero energy” status won’t have any particular tax benefits, “it does have a certain amount of marketing value,” Pamela says. It’s also personally satisfying for the couple, whose vineyard and home have been solar-powered from the beginning.
The Storrs’ romance began in wine-making classes at UC Davis, and two decades later, they have raised three children, countless animals, organic gardens and 20 vintages of award-winning handmade wines. Always focused on the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation, they purchased 50 acres in Pleasant Valley 10 years ago, where an heirloom apple orchard awaited restoration and hillsides were prime for grape planting.
On the verge of organic certification, the vineyard boasts 10 acres of pinot noir and chardonnay, growing on land invigorated by stateof- the-art sustainable techniques. These hands-on winemakers have worked tirelessly to plant native wildflowers, create owl nests and raptor perches, and most recently, to introduce a quartet of miniature “baby doll” sheep to graze between the vines.
“They’re a heritage breed,” Pamela explains. “They’re much smaller than the typical breed—the little sheep fit between the rows,” she says, laughing. “Think of them as the organic version of weed control.” She reckons the small breed will work very well in the winter because they won’t compact the moist soil. “In the summer they’ll have to graze elsewhere on the property,” she says, “because they actually will try to eat the tender new grape leaves.”
The vibrant ecology of the vineyard owes a lot to Wild Farm Alliance, which promotes agricultural practices that help restore and protect wild nature, and the integration of farms into their wild settings. “Thanks to a grant, they’ve provided us with native plants, and local high school students came to help with planting.” The idea behind that was to create cover plantings to enhance the habitat and provide food for wildlife. All of this micro-management of their incredibly diverse and fertile acreage “keeps life interesting,” Pamela admits. “It’s so much more engaging than just doing one thing every day. Besides, the vineyard never waits.”
Racks of solar panels face the sun at the top of one far slope of the vineyards, and native fescues have been planted to retain groundwater and valuable topsoil. “We are determined to keep all of the water on our property.” Pamela chuckles. “Our first wet winter, we watched a lot of the vineyard topsoil float downhill.”
And now that the winery building foundation has been poured and the structure itself will soon be up, the winemakers have plans to send visitors on self-guided walking tours, aided by well-placed informational signs.
The Storrs’ move to lure visitors out to their vineyard runs counter to a recent trend that has been opening legions of in-town tasting rooms from Santa Cruz’s Swift Street Courtyard to Carmel Valley Village.
“A lot of city people just don’t get out into the country very much,” Pamela says. We’re interested in educating people about all of these natural cycles.”
The future of wine-making, she believes, is a fully hands-on, natural and highly sustainable enterprise. “Of course I’m interested in planting some fun new grape varietals, too.”