Jordan Winery Joins Global Efforts to Protect Pollinators in Peril

Written By: Tim Tesconi
Published: June 4, 2021

While crafting one of the world’s finest cabernets at its Healdsburg estate, Jordan Vineyard & Winery is creating safe havens amid the vineyards and oak woodlands for bees and butterflies – hummingbirds too  – threatened by habitat loss and the deleterious effects wrought by climate change.

For John Jordan, the owner of Jordan Vineyard & Winery, a sprawling and spectacular 1,200-acre wine estate in the Alexander Valley, the devastating wildfires of recent years were an alarming wake-up call about the loss of habitat and the threat to native plants and wildlife, including the beneficial insects vital for pollinating food crops and nourishing wildlife.

When staff came to him with ideas for setting aside estate land for pollinator sanctuaries, Jordan gave his enthusiastic support while earmarking financial resources for the project, which is transforming 10 acres of grasslands into preserves nurturing honeybees, hummingbirds, Western Monarch butterflies and other essential pollinators. It’s the largest endeavor of its kind on any vineyard and winery property in America.

Jordan said it was a natural fit on land that he wants forever preserved. At Jordan, 1,000 of the estate’s 1,200 acres are permanently protected in their natural state.

“We are all just visiting this planet, and it is up to each of us to do our part to make it a better place,” said Jordan, the son of winery founders Tom and Sally Jordan. “It’s also gratifying to do these projects and share them with our visitors.”

The sanctuary project started last year following strategic planning about best sites for native bee and butterflies on the property. Over the next three years, land will continue to be planted with purple owl’s clover, yarrow, sages, cobweb thistle and many other beneficial host plants that allow pollinators to thrive and reproduce. Coyote brush and trees were integrated into the sanctuaries to provide year-round resources and nesting habitats for native pollinators.  Once established, the sanctuaries remain off limits to tractors and mechanical equipment, leaving the bees and butterflies undisturbed in a beautiful zone of their own to buzz and flutter in St. Catherine’s lace and California goldenrod.

It’s an ambitious partnership to enhance the environment and protect the pollinators essential to food production and human survival. It’s also a blueprint for other landowners interested in setting aside a portion of their property to provide feeding and breeding grounds for native bees or migrating Western Monarch butterflies, magnificent insects on the brink of extinction.

“Supporting biodiversity is a big part of what we do at Jordan because so much of the property, which is oak woodlands and chaparral, is permanently protected open space. Land stewardship and wildlife are two things that owner John Jordan cares about very much,” said Lisa Mattson, the director of marketing and communications at Jordan for the last 11 years. She wears many hats beyond what her job title would indicate. She finds the pollinator sanctuary project very rewarding on many levels and sees it as way to further educate winery visitors about the environment and what farmers are doing to protect it.

Mattson is working closely with Director of Agricultural Operations Brent Young, who with his dedicated crew, who spearheaded the seeding and planting of the pollinator sanctuaries on the Jordan property, which since the early 1990s has been the winter home for commercial beehives used in agriculture. Jordan became a permanent home for honeybee colonies with the addition of an apiary in 2016, and now Mason and Mining bees and other bee species that are threatened can call Jordan home, too.

Young, university educated and hands-on practical, embraces the challenges because bees, butterflies and other working pollinators fit perfectly into his overall dream of making Jordan a sustainable, integrated estate that produces an array of food to match its renowned wines. Bees, birds and butterflies are part of the intricate ecosystem necessary for healthy growing conditions.

“Working with the experts to develop the sanctuaries has really opened my eyes about both the value and fragility of pollinators in Mother Nature’s overall scheme. We can make a difference by setting aside land and habitat where pollinators can thrive and do the important work they do,” said Young, who has been recognized as one of the rising stars in the Sonoma County agriculture.

The sanctuaries are being developed with the assistance of Bee Friendly Farming and the San Francisco-based Pollinator Partnership, the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems. Young worked with experts from the Pollinator Partnership staff to pinpoint optimal sites and plant materials needed to create the pollinator sanctuaries. Plants were then selected based on terrain, sun exposure, proximity to watersheds, and most importantly, which pollinators each habitat will ultimately support, including native bees.

“The work at Jordan is a fantastic example of how pollinator conservation can be directly incorporated into farming and other land use operations. Jordan set out with a goal to develop a variety of habitat areas to support diverse groups of pollinators, from hummingbirds to native bees, butterflies, and moths,” said Miles Dakin, who is Bee Friendly Farming coordinator for Pollinator Partnership.

Dakin said the biggest threat to pollinators is habitat loss.

“Landowners can directly help protect these pollinators by planting habitat to support them. This includes not only nectar and pollen sources but nesting sites and host plants. Pollinator Partnership has extensive resources available to help landowners begin this journey,” said Dakin who advised interested landowners to explore the Pollinator Partnership website, at (https://www.pollinator.org/bff/bff-us/farming-resources).

The idea for the pollinator sanctuary was planted a few years ago when Todd Knoll, the executive chef at Jordan, was contacted by the Pollinator Partnership and asked if Jordan would collaborate on promoting the Partnership’s annual Pollinator Week, observed each June, as part of the winery’s summer vineyard hikes. This year’s Pollinator Week is June 21-27, with celebrations around the world to raise awareness about the value of pollinators and the serious threats to their survival.

Once Mattson and Young learned more about the Pollinator Partnership and its services in helping landowners create pollinator sanctuaries, the plan was launched to establish sanctuaries at Jordan. And typical of owner John Jordan’s style it was done in a big way with no cutting corners in the pursuit of excellence.

Now, more than 3,400 plants from 100 species are being planted on the four initial Jordan Estate pollinator sanctuary sites that will total eight acres.

The Monarch butterfly sanctuary, which will add another two acres to the Jordan project, is proving to be the most challenging of the endeavors. That’s because the Western Monarch butterfly feeds exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, which include species like the narrowleaf and showy milkweed. Without milkweed, the Monarchs cannot complete their metamorphosis into butterflies as part of their life cycle.

While life-sustaining to Monarchs, milkweed, which is toxic to livestock and humans, is disappearing from the natural landscape along the West Coast, the vast pathway for Monarchs migrating to Baja. This past winter, only 1,914 monarchs were recorded overwintering on the California coast — the lowest number ever recorded. The population has suffered a 99.9 percent decline since the 1980s, sounding alarms and urgent calls to action.

“Monarch lovers were once able to see millions of butterflies in their overwintering habitat, but now America’s most iconic pollinator is almost gone in the West,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

In March, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation that would provide $125 million in emergency funds over five years to save the western population of Monarch butterflies from extinction. If approved by Congress, the money would be for on-the-ground conservation projects, like the one being privately funded at Jordan Winery, to stabilize and save Monarchs, the beautiful black and orange butterflies once a common sight in every summer garden.

Rescue efforts are definitely needed, particularly when it comes to restoring milkweeds for the butterflies. Milkweed is a very expensive and notoriously challenging plant to successfully germinate and grow. Young said milkweed seeds can’t just be scattered on the ground and expected to pop up. Milkweed seeds need cool, consistent temperatures for a set number of days to germinate and prosper.

As part of his reach in the agriculture community, Young enlisted members of the Warm Springs 4-H Club to grow milkwood plants for the Monarch butterfly sanctuary.  Young and Dana Grande, who is the grower relations manager at Jordan and closely connected to 4-H, proposed that members of Healdsburg’s Warm Springs 4-H grow milkweed seedlings in a nursery-like atmosphere with the moisture and temperature conditions needed to germinate.

There were five 4-H Club members, ages 9 to 13, involved in the milkweed project for the Jordan sanctuary, guided by 4-H Project Leader Alina Vanoni Collin. The 4-H kids took the challenge very seriously and last month delivered 134 milkweed seedlings—an impressive 67% success rate on germination—to the Jordan Winery greenhouse, where the young plants will continue to grow in preparation for fall planting. The 4-H project not only grows the milkweed plants essential for the Monarch’s survival but creates awareness in young leaders about the butterfly’s plight and what can be done to preserve it.

It’s a project with a global mission. In the years ahead, the 4-H club members, along with the team at Jordan, will be closely studying the sanctuaries to see how the pollinators proliferate.

“As a newly formed project this year, we discussed sustainable agriculture and the importance of pollinators and their habitat in our environment,” said 4-H leader Collin. “This was a great partnership with Jordan Vineyard & Winery as it allowed our 4-H members the opportunity to grow plants that will directly benefit pollinators in our area. We look forward to visiting the project and we are proud of our small contribution.”

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