Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sustainable Wine

They just ran this fascinating piece on CNN about a Napa Valley vineyard that has taken great strides towards sustainable farming. Which is pretty remarkable given that California is one of the most over irrigated, over fertilized, chemical ridden farming regions on the planet.

Shafer Vineyards
used to be a traditional California wine operation, with bare soil between the vine rows cleared of every living thing by gallons of pesticides. Then the owner realized that if he planted cover crops like clover and vetch between the rows during the winter, not only would they provide habitat for beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, but they would also prevent soil erosion, retain moisture, choke back other weeds, and when they died off in the summer, restore nutrients to the soil.

Since then, Shafer has taken other steps such as encouraging songbirds, raptors and bats to control pests, composting, setting up an irrigation pond and recycling all their water, and converting the winery to solar power.

Go to for more.

What I love about all this is that not only is it good for the planet, good for the soil and good for the wine - it's that aside from the solar panels, it doesn't cost the farmer a thing and saves him thousands in input costs. And although they don't mention how much the solar panels cost, they did mention that they used to spend $40,000 - $50,000 a year on electricity, whereas now they only spend about $1,500 to run the irrigation pumps - and that will be replaced with solar soon.

I think about this every time I hear farmers complain about Dion's carbon tax and how much it's going to raise they diesel and fertilizer costs and I just shake my head. But I know it's not that simple unless you run something like a winery where you're growing, processing, packaging and distributing everything yourself.

However, if you rely on corporate-owned refrigerated warehouses and processing plants, and mega supermarket chains that demand perfection, uniformity and durability in order to have a market for your crops, then your options for alternative farming methods are going to be limited.

I don't know what the solution is, but I hope the growing awareness of food-related issues on the part of the public will provoke a fundamental change in the system.

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