Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Agroforestry: Lago di Merlo Vineyards


Date of Visit: May 15, 2019  
Type of event: Study tour
Topic: Agroforestry
Organization: Lago di Merlo Vineyards and Ca'Bella
Location: Geyserville, California
Hosts: Harry Merlo, Jr.
International Fellows: Richard Banda (Malawi), Fen-hui Chen (Taiwan), Temitope Dauda (Nigeria), Zhongyuan Ding (China), Ana Kanoppa (Brazil), Will Maiden (United Kingdom), Romain Matile (France), Rodolfo Vieto (Costa Rica)
WFI Staff: Shadia Duery / International Fellowship Manager, Rick Zenn / Senior Fellow, Vivian Bui / Professional Programs Coordinator

On a week-long trip to northern California, the International Fellows visited Harry Merlo, Jr. at his vineyard for a morning tour on agroforestry. Harry Merlo, Sr., philanthropist and World Forest Institute founder, raised his son Harry Jr. in the winemaking tradition. Harry Sr. began at the age of five, crushing grapes with his feet for his father, Giuseppe Merlo, in the Italian section of Stirling City, California. The tradition continued with the acquisition of Harry Sr.’s vineyard near Geyserville, California in 1965. Eventually, family interest in winemaking led his son, Harry Jr., to study viticulture and enology at California State University, Fresno. Following graduation, Harry Jr. ultimately became Manager of Lago di Merlo Vineyards & Winery at the Merlo Ranch in Sonoma County. Under Harry Jr.'s leadership, the Merlos have expanded their vineyard to over 200 acres and currently grow Sangiovese Piccolo, Merlot, Cabernet, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Group photo in front of Harry Jr.'s grape harvester, which can harvest
up to 10 acres/hour. The harvester is Harry Jr.'s most expensive equipment.

Harry Jr. describes his method of vineyard management as a collaboration between agriculture and forestry. He believes in responsible stewardship of the land and participates in Sustainable Sonoma's voluntary points system, where private landowners earn points for implementing sustainable measures, including installing solar panels, planting trees to minimize soil erosion, and providing wildlife habitat, such as wood duck boxes. Currently on his 30th harvest, Harry Jr. chooses not to use Roundup to control weeds underneath the grapevines and instead opts for more labor-intensive mechanical weeding. Annual post-harvest pruning is also done by hand, whereas leaf thinning is done both by hand and mechanically. Cover crops, such as legumes and oats, are planted in between grapevine rows then tilled under to improve soil conditions. The entire vineyard is irrigated by drip irrigation, which uses water from the property's own reservoir at a low rate of 1 gallon per hour. The perimeter of the vineyard is lined with pine trees, which act to prevent soil erosion. Over the past 30 years, more than 750,000 conifers have been planted on the property. The forested part of the property is managed under a non-commercial timber harvest plan, which stipulates that no more than 2,050 board feet can be harvested at a time. Harry Jr. describes managing his land as a "lifestyle occupation" and can't imagine doing anything better for a living.

Thank you so much, Harry, for your generous hospitality!

Dinner with Harry Jr. at Catelli's, his favorite Italian restaurant

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