"Mother Nature Means Gaia" by Sandy Sims

The way to a travel writer’s heart is definitely through the stomach, and Chef Marco Fiorini of Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa’s restaurant must know this. His spread of pastries and fruit hit the mark in the morning, but when the staff surprised us at noon with plates of tiny puff pastries stuffed with crab, scallop slammers, lobster bisque soup, croissants with ham and melted cheese and more, well, I for one was besotted. Everyone’s lunch plans faded into oblivion as we oood, ahhhd and munched the chef’s creations. And Chef Marco, who learned to cook in Italy, has made the restaurant eco-friendly, in keeping with the hotel owner Wen-I Chang’s mission.

Chang, who worked in hospitality, found the industry wasteful. This realization and his growing consciousness of the environment got him dreaming of a hotel that used the best practices and technology for sustainability. Gaia is that dream come true. The word Gaia means “mother nature.”

The hotel is the first in the world to receive Gold LEED certification. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. There are four levels—basic, silver, gold and platinum. I don’t know if any place has achieved platinum.)

I found this description of LEED Certification on the U.S. Green Building Council:

LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

What’s cool are three monitors in Gaia’s lobby that track the hotel’s minute by minute consumption of water and electricity, and its emission of CO2.

Ben Bingman, the director of marketing, took us on a tour of Gaia’s sustainable practices. First off, the swans in the courtyard lagoon (in front of the pool) were hiding, apparently nesting and expecting little swans but not receiving visitors. The lagoon is its own ecosystem, using recycled water. Birds come and go; one troublesome heron actually gobbles up a fish now and then.

As we rambled along behind Ben, he told us Gaia’s long list of sustainable practices. Here are a couple I found interesting.

The sealants, adhesives and paints they use have low VOC. So here’s another Internet explanation for you, this time from RemodelQA:

VOCs stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. These photo-chemical compounds react in the air we breathe, creating ground level ozone (smog). VOCs may continue to react in the air we breathe for days, months and even years. These harmful gases are emitted by conventional paints, stains, solvents, and many more toxic substances. VOC related air pollution causes eye, nose, throat and skin irritations, leading to respiratory problems, headaches and/or nausea. Prolonged contact with VOCs can lead to liver and kidney cancers, as well as damage to the central nervous system (brain).

All bathrooms use recycled tiles and granite and the toilets offer up a one-gallon flush, but Ben showed us it’s a hearty flush; solar panels provide energy, and the lumber used is part of an international management of forests program. There are even grates at all building entrances that suck up dust particulates, keeping them from getting inside. These amazing Solatube Tubular skylights, which magnify the sun’s rays, light up the lobby, the conference rooms and most of the interior building during the day.

And the list goes on and on. But we chuckled when we saw the book Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore sitting like a Bible in every room. They appeared well read. Maybe Mr. Chang is gaining converts to his sustainable mission.

One great perk to Gaia is it the cost. Yes, it is 11 miles to downtown Napa, but its also miles cheaper to stay here, and the rooms are lovely. Typical rates off-season are $109 a night and on season $149. But then there are AAA and senior discounts as well as packages. Wine tours come to the hotel for pick up and, of course, there’s more.

Sandy Sims
BATW Program Chair


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