Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Few Words From Volker Eisele on Organic Farming, Land, and "Green" Marketing

Hundreds of people attended Volker Eisele's memorial
service at the St. Helena Catholic Church Tuesday.
Volker Eisele's legacy as the lion of agricultural land preservation in Napa will not be forgotten. But his contributions on the subject of organic farming, a less explored topic in his legacy, are just as important.

This week I've been rereading an interview I did with him in the summer of 2013 and have decided to share some of the nuggets here to honor more of his legacy. All quotes are Volker's:

On development

"I've been here long enough in Napa Valley to know how much natural habitat there was - 20, 30, 40 years ago - that has been destroyed to gain a few acres of vineyards. It's a misunderstanding…It isn't that people are evil or anything. It's ignorance and a lack of education that leads to those kinds of things."

On organic farming

"I started farming organically here in 1974, when we settled here. I must say I am not an expert on chemicals. All I know is "no poison on our land." [USDA officials in that era advised him against farming organically and told him he would not get a crop.]

"I was trained in critical thinking and nobody had explained to me - or could explain to me - why it would be useful to put poison at one end of my ranch, and then it would end up in the well, which we use for our house and which we would feed to our little children. That connection nobody could make for me. And still hasn't."

"Mind you, it isn't very long ago that people farmed without poison. It's relatively new that we farm with poison in the world…Is that good? I mean, seriously?"

"The poison issue is the critical issue because the sustainability of our environment and ultimately of the planet depends on how we treat the planet. And with poisons, we're not treating it very well."

On Roundup

"To pretend that things such as Roundup truly disappear in the ground and dissolve is, of course, total nonsense. And there is more and more research coming out about Roundup. We know if you use chemicals, there are things that are leftover - that are harmful. And that is why I'm not using chemicals. Period. No insecticides, no herbicides, no chemical fertilizer - no nothing."

On chemical fertilizers

"When you look, when you follow the New York Times daily, eventually you find a scandal here and there about groundwater contamination and it's very often from chemical fertilizer, from nitrates. Look at the nitrate issue as it is right now developing in the Central Valley community. It is all nitrate from agriculture, from over fertilization. I mean, you don't have to be Einstein to figure out these things."

On the wine industry's sustainability programs

"We have now attempts to be what I call "almost organic." Sort of second best. They call it sustainable farming practices. Now we are doing Napa Green [he was the president of Napa Green when I met him] here and things of that nature. And none of these things has a real good standard. The only good standard is organic farming."

On "green marketing"

"The wine industry is focused on "sustainability" - and not pesticide reduction - because the wine industry is the most adept at marketing and they know the market. The market wants something green. And so this is why you have all these euphemisms. You call it "sustainable" farming practice. You do all these things.

"I say, "sustainable" farming practices is counting the bugs before you spray them. It is undefined. Nobody knows what sustainable practices are because the obvious thing would be that ultimately if you are sustainable, you get rid of poison. And you would have to have other standards - erosion prevention, and habitat restoration, and all of those things - they should come automatically. But it's all very nebulous."

On biodiversity

"Part of the problem is that people think they can just use organic substances and be good farmers. We need to educate people to re-establish more natural habitat. 

"We ourselves (Volker Eisele Family Estate) are in a very advantageous position in that we have a lot of forest land. We stopped the grazing on our rangeland, after we got here, and that helped the forest tremendously. We probably have the same bird population that the native Americans experienced on this land."

On winemakers and terroir

"To me one of the worst things in American wine culture is the concentration on the winemaker. When you talk about Chateau Latour (one of the grand crus of Bordeaux), which is the best red wine in the world, you don't need to know the winemaker. You need to know where the grapes are from. And you need to know that famous wines come from those 125 acres. Ninety five percent of what you have in the bottle is due to the grapes. And the land."

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