Of the vine

Oroville winemaker makes good with the environment

GOOD SPIRITS<br>Long Creek Winery owner Lou Cecchi spends many long days tending his vineyard, so the resulting varietals are a labor of love.

Long Creek Winery owner Lou Cecchi spends many long days tending his vineyard, so the resulting varietals are a labor of love.

Photo By Andrew Boost

Have a taste:
Long Creek Winery is open seven days a week by appointment. To schedule a visit, call 589-3415.

Being green is one thing, but being green while producing fine wines is a completely different matter. Somehow Long Creek Winery manages to do both.

Located in Oroville, the boutique winery is remarkable not only for its beautiful landscape—including cascading rows of green vines with plump purple grapes—but also for its dedication to sustainable practices.

“We want to produce wine as naturally as possible,” said owner Lou Cecchi, who grows grapes on seven acres of his 30-acre ranch. “We’re doing our part to enrich the environment.”

He has been making wine for the past 12 years, commercially for the last eight after some encouragement from his daughter.

“She said if I was doing so well with it as a hobby, I might as well go into business,” he said.

Cecchi, who spent 30 years in the aerospace industry, produces 2,500 cases a year of 11 varietals, such as cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, syrah and chardonnay. Several of them sell locally at Raley’s and Vino 100, but about 80 percent of the wine is sold directly from the winery.

Cecchi’s jump from aerospace to viticulture may seem like a huge one, but his previous job helps him keep the winery sustainable. He designed Long Creek’s single building with energy efficiency in mind, constructing the facility beneath ground level. The structure is kept at 68 degrees—a temperature necessary for proper wine storage—without using air conditioning.

Photo By Andrew Boost

Seven natural springs run under the building’s floor, keeping it relatively cool. From 7 p.m. to midnight, fans pump additional cool air inside. If the temperature gets too high, sprinklers water the roof to bring it back down.

“The air-conditioning guys thought we were crazy,” he said.

But the efforts have been successful: Cecchi pays $65 a month to cool a building that with traditional cooling practices would cost $2,200 a month to maintain. In addition, the facility is powered by a 15-kilowatt solar-panel system, which also provides power to the rest of the winery.

“We are on 100 percent solar power,” he said.

Cecchi keeps the environment in mind in other ways, too. He takes care and consideration not only for the current year’s grapes, but also for the durability of the vineyard for years to come. He said he uses mechanical equipment as little as possible, so as not to disrupt the root structure of the vines.

“We don’t use a lot of fuel on machinery, and we keep vines protected,” he said.

While the winery is not considered organic, Cecchi notes that he keeps his chemical use to a minimum. The only thing he uses is an application of Roundup to manage the weeds in the vineyard. Eliminating that practice isn’t feasible, Cecchi said, primarily because he has no employees.

“My wife and I are it,” he said.

MERLOT, ANYONE? <br>Several of Long Creek Winery’s varietals, including its merlot, are aged in French oak barrels.

Photo By Andrew Boost

During a late-summer morning, Cecchi and his wife, Yola, discussed their venture while bottling and labeling wine. The two are responsible for every aspect of the vineyard operations, including the grape harvest, which becomes a family affair.

The harvests are attended by about 100 of the couple’s friends and relatives, with each person hand-picking the fruit. The grapes are crushed immediately, and the stems are fed to Cecchi’s 15 head of Angus cattle, which live on another portion of the property.

“They eat them like candy,” Cecchi said.

Yola prepares a large luncheon after the harvest, and the two spend the rest of the year bottling the wine.

“We do everything to keep this different from large industries,” he said.

While Cecchi is proud of the work he has accomplished, he admits it takes up a lot of his time.

“There’s nothing easy about growing wine [grapes],” Cecchi said. “It’s constant work.”

Still, he is passionate about the winery, and he’s one of the founders of the viticulture program at Butte College, where he is a member of the Board of Trustees. What he said started with a few clippings from his personal collection has turned into seven acres of educational vineyards at the Oroville campus.

Tip Wilmarth, who runs the program at Butte, got the idea to start a vineyard in 2002, after attending a conference in San Luis Obispo for community colleges. He brought the idea to Cecchi, who immediately came on board.

“He’s always been very supportive of the agriculture program in general,” Wilmarth said. “And he became instrumental in starting the viticulture program.”