Gaspare Indelicato was nothing if not pioneering. At the age of 16, he and his wife Caterina left their native Sicily for the United States, finally arriving in the town of Manteca, in San Joaquin County, California. That same year, Gaspare and his brother-in-law Sebastiano Luppino bought 68 acres, converting the rundown dairy site into a vineyard. In 1924 they planted vineyards in the fertile soils of Lodi, California. The enterprising brothers-in-law began shipping grapes to home winemakers on the East Coast when the unpopular 18th amendment banned the sale and drinking of alcohol in the United States.
When the end of Prohibition came, Gaspare bought some winemaking equipment. In 1935, the small winery in the converted hay barn began producing wine – all 12,912 litres of which was sold for 50 cents a gallon (3.79 litres). When customers brought their glass bottles back, he would sterilize and refill them, making him an early advocate of recycling.
His three sons later expanded the winery and purchased more land. The third generation of the Indelicatos continues to run the business, with the fourth generation close behind, now producing more than 11m cases a year.
“My grandfather Gaspare came to this country with nothing more than a dream. It took decades of hard work, but he was able to make that dream come true,” says Chris Indelicato, CEO and president of Delicato Family Wines.
Today, Delicato farms 5,000 acres (2,023 ha) across a handful of Californian appellations. They’ve long since moved out of the hay shed and now have four wineries: in Napa Valley, the Lodi area, Monterey County and San Benito County. No matter how much they expand, they retain the mindset of the founding generation – that everything, even a glass bottle, must be treated with respect.
Composting has been going on at Delicato’s vineyards since the mid-1970s, and in 2017, the company completed the installation of a Solar Electric Energy System at Black Stallion Estate Winery. Every facility is certified by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, a comprehensive sustainability program of the California Wine Institute, a statewide standard of sustainability in both the wineries and in the vineyards.
Wherever possible, nature is preferred over manmade controls—after all, nature has created its own system of checks and balances, so it makes sense to work with it, rather than against it. For example, the viticulturists at San Bernabe and Clay Station vineyards have developed specially-designed owl nesting boxes, which have won the approval of their feathered residents. These nocturnal predators now repay the favour by hunting down the pesky rodents that damage tender young vines.
Native cover crops, including grasses and legumes, are grown between the vine rows, to harbour and encourage beneficial insects, which prey upon pests. They also form a kind of organic carpet that minimizes dust, in turn reducing harmful vine-snacking mites.
Biodiversity is strongly encouraged, and the family has helped to create a magnificent habitat, bursting with life, at the San Bernabe Vineyard in Monterey. Wild boar, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, gophers, badgers, deer, mountain lions, eagles, hawks, falcons, roadrunners, ducks, egrets, herons, doves, crows, starlings, vultures and a variety of fish have all taken up residence.
Delicato’s San Bernabe Vineyard is also a founding member of the Central Coast Vineyard Team, an organisation formed by growers and University of California Extension specialists to identify and promote environmentally safe, viticulturally effective, sustainable farming practices. San Bernabe supports and participates in the Code for Sustainable Winegrowing Practices outlined by the Wine Institute in conjunction with the California Association of Winegrape Growers.
Clay Station Vineyard, named for a historic stagecoach stop used during California’s Gold Rush, proudly adheres to the Lodi Rules Program of Sustainability. To qualify, a vineyard has to achieve a certain number of sustainable farming practices points, which are calculated based on how sustainable the winegrowing practices are, and the environmental impacts of all pesticides—including both organic and synthetic—as set down by the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission in 2008. The following year, the company reduced electric energy usage by 2.7 megawatts at the Manteca winery—enough to supply power to more than 2,000 average homes for one year—through lighting retrofit projects, wine tank insulation and participation in demand-response programs. As a result, Delicato received Pacific Gas & Electric’s first ever ”Green Award” in recognition of energy efficiency innovation and environmental leadership in 2009.
The family’s commitment to continuous improvement earned them the ISO 9001 certification, an internationally recognized third-party audit system based on eight quality management principles.
Healthy vines, great wine
Delicato implements regular, sustainable practices across all of its facilities, vineyards, and wineries including water and energy conservation, soil restoration, responsible packaging, recycling, rootstock selection, erosion control, and other environmentally friendly efforts.
The ultimate goal is to farm with as little impact on the environment as possible and to ensure a healthy life cycle for all of the inhabitants of the vineyards. Every organism participates in the ecosystem at San Bernabe and Clay Station vineyards.
Wine quality starts in the vineyard, and a vineyard is first and foremost a living thing. Delicato Family Wines will always strive to farm with the health of the environment in mind, while still providing quality wines, mindfully farmed and vinified, for everyone to enjoy.