Thursday, June 27, 2013

Green Gardens, Greenwashing? Of Tomato Festivals and Biodynamic Gardens

Every now and then, I just break down over greenwashing. I can usually just look the other way, but on some days, it's just too much and I have to share these observations with the wider world.

Recently I've been noticing the gardening promotion - i.e. we have a great organic or biodynamic garden. A tomato festival can also be a tipoff that all is not organic in the vineyard. Not even close.

Cases in point:

• Kendall Jackson and their 17th annual heirloom tomato contest

• Round Pond in Napa and their 200 x 50 foot biodynamic vegetable garden

Kendall Jackson in Sonoma

It is widely known that Kendall Jackson was responsible for cutting down hundreds of acres of precious forest on mountainsides in Sonoma and Mendocino - thereby contributing both to clearcutting as well as soil erosion and overall bad environmental management.

Jackson himself used to love to fly in planes and admire his mountain vineyards. He had more mountain vineyards than most wineries - estimates put his tally at 11,000 out of his 14,000 acres.

His marketing team covets the niche described often as LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), yet none of his wines are known to be made from certified organic grapes. Why bother stopping using pesticides and getting certified, when you can just invite everyone to an heirloom tomato party with bands and food?

KJ would be happy to invite you to come to their Heirloom Tomato festival and celebration in Sept. For $95, you get to celebrate heirloom tomatoes.

Round Pond in Napa 

Reading the description of Round Pond's statement about their sustainable farming practices would have you practically weeping over how much they care about the vineyards.

Here's what they say about their farming approach:

For nearly a quarter century we have had the pleasure and the privilege of being stewards of Round Pond Estate. While chemicals and shortcuts can make for quick fixes, the truth is, consistent, quality winegrowing is about seasons, cycles and a long-term commitment to the land. To promote natural balance and vineyard health we have dedicated ourselves to the principles of sustainable winegrowing.
What is sustainable winegrowing? Simply put, sustainable winegrowing is a quality conscious, socially responsible and environmentally sound approach to farming. In practice, sustainable winegrowing focuses on encouraging natural processes that promote soil health, such as erosion control, native cover crops and composting. In addition, it promotes positive plant-soil interactions and emphasizes a concerted reduction in the use of chemicals and pesticides...
At heart, being a responsible steward means giving back what you take out. Our passionate vineyard team understands this and applies their decades of experience to the task. From planting through harvest, every step in the production of our acclaimed estate-grown wines reflects our respect for the land and its enduring abundance.
The web site goes on to introduce readers to their 200 foot by 50 foot biodynamic vegetable garden and the various garden experiences guests can choose to participate in:

Food and wine lovers! A gourmet garden to table experience awaits you. This intimate Sunday brunch begins with a tour of the biodynamic sensory garden (weather permitting) led by our winery chef, Eric Maczko. 

From this description, it then comes as something of a surprise to learn what pesticides Round Pond is applying to its estate vineyards:

Pristine Fungicide (Boscalid) - a suspected bee toxin

Intrepid (Methoxyfenozide) - highly toxic to birds and bees

Chateau Herbicide, Applaud (Buprofezin) - classified by the EPA as a possible carcinogen

And that's not even including:

• Roundup - everyone's favorite herbicide, but whose inert (i.e. "inactive") ingredients have been found to be toxic in a 2012 French study and whose main active ingredient - glysophate - is highly toxic to aquatic life and has been associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to a 2008 Swedish study published in the International Journal of Cancer.

On the bright side, there are two fabulous vegetable gardens you might prefer to visit, since they are at wineries who are committed to certified organic farming on all or part of their estates: Campovida in Hopland in Mendocino County and Raymond in Napa.

Campovida's 13-acre flower garden was the birthplace of the 70's California organic wine grape growers movement, initiated by Paul Dolan and Amigo Bob, and surviving in the form of Bonterra as the #1 selling organically grown wine in America with a market share that dwarfs its competitors. Originally an organic vegetable garden, the current garden was designed by Kate Frey, and is now an internationally recognized horticultural wonder.

Raymond in Napa is in transition to organic and biodynamic wine grape growing (they are working towards certification in the fall of 2013) and has a beautiful, two-acre biodynamic vegetable garden display they call the Theater of Nature.

You can visit Raymond's garden's many exhibits, explaining various farming approaches from conventional to organic to biodynamic, for free (no tasting or touring fee is charged for visiting the garden). However it will be awhile before Raymond has organically grown wines for sale. Like many larger wineries (Parducci, Benziger) they are heavy on the branding side of organic and light on the availability of organically grown wines as they buy many grapes from conventional growers.

So when a winery talks about their gardening practices, make sure you also ask about their vineyard practices.

Whether you're growing vegetables or wine grapes, bee toxins, bird toxins, carcinogens, and endocrin disruptors have no place in the garden.

And beware the claims of "sustainability" - a word that seems to be difficult for the wine industry to use meaningfully.

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