Salmon, Steelhead and Wine Go Together Naturally

TU had a display set up at the winery illustrating cooperative efforts to restore and protect salmon and steelhead in the Russian River Watershed.

In a world where conservation is often and unfortunately pitted as “economy vs. the environment,” it is refreshing (and important) to find examples of landowners and businesses who profit in sustainable ways. Trout Unlimited has its fair share of such encouraging stories – and one of them is being played out every day in the wine-producing valleys of the Russian River watershed in Sonoma County, California.

Participants went on a bike tour to learn about grape growing, wine making and cooperative efforts to restore and protect salmon and steelhead.

As part of its Water and Wine program, Trout Unlimited in California works with grape growers, wineries and others to protect and restore some of the world’s most endangered salmon and steelhead populations while ensuring that the region continues producing world-class wines.  In other words: These cooperative efforts prove that salmon, steelhead and wine do, indeed, go well together in more ways than one!

Winemaker and owner Gio Martorana discusses efforts to protect and restore salmon and steelhead in Grape Creek.

On Saturday, August 25, TU participated in a celebration of one such successful partnership with the Martorana Family Winery in Healdsburg, California.

About 25 people attended a “Bikes, Vines and Wine” event at the Martorana Family Winery, which included a seven mile bike ride from the winery to the Grape Creek habitat restoration site and then on to Lake Sonoma where participants learned about cooperative efforts to restore, sustain, and monitor coho in Grape Creek and other tributaries to the Russian River. After the tour, participants rode the seven miles back to the winery for an old fashion pig roast – a meal served with great Martorana Family wines.

Ben White, a fisheries biologists with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, talks about efforts to restore coho salmon in the Russian River Watershed.

The Martorana family has been growing grapes in the Dry Creek Valley for more than 25 years and has produced some of the finest grapes for several well known wineries in the area. Part of the vineyard along Grape Creek is listed on the historical record as having been a Native American fishing village originally occupied by the Southern Pomo Indians, who were once sustained by the abundance of coho salmon that once thrived throughout the Russian River watershed.  Coho salmon have since experienced a precipitous decline in the area, but efforts are underway to restore, protect and sustain the fisheries.

Linda Clapp, an environmental education park ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, talks about coho salmon recovery efforts in the Russian River watershed.

The Martorana Family has stepped up, engaging in a suite of activities to benefit salmon and steelhead: planting streamside vegetation, restoring stream channels, removing barriers to migration, and participating in coho releases and monitoring. Even more notably, Martorana Family Winery has worked to tackle the often-gnarly issue of water quantity.  With help from the Russian River Coho Water Resources Partnership, the family improved streamflows and restored critical fish habitat in Grape Creek by installing a large fan, used in the spring to prevent frost damage of grape vines as an effective alternative to traditional methods of spraying vines with water removed from creeks and rivers.  Formed in 2009, the Coho Partnership is working to ensure that there is enough water for people and fish through sound science and careful planning and by developing mutually-beneficial water supply solutions that satisfy the needs of fish and grape growers.

Participants enjoyed good food (including a roasted pig) and, of course, good wine.

“Martorana Family Winery has been a great and important partner in our efforts to restore and protect coho salmon and steelhead in the Russian River watershed,” says Mary Ann King, Chair of the Russian River Coho Water Resources Partnership and manager of Trout Unlimited’s Water and Wine program. “Martorana Family Winery has demonstrated how, by working together, it’s possible to restore, protect and sustain our wild, native fisheries while producing exceptional grapes and wine.”

For more information about the Martorana Family Winery, click here:

For more information about TU’s Water and Wine program, click here:

To learn more about the Russian River Coho Resources Partnership, click here:

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