Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , Leave a comment on Anderson Valley, Tentacle Of The Wine Grape Octopus

Anderson Valley, Tentacle Of The Wine Grape Octopus

Will Parrish, ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER

“When at last the land, worn out, would refuse to yield, they would invest their money in something else; by then they would have all made fortunes.”

— Frank Norris, The Octopus, 1901

One of California agribusiness’ oldest traditions is clearing huge swaths of land to plant orchards and vineyards. On the western slopes of the Santa Clara Valley, the newly-arrived class of prospector capitalists felled the dense chaparral and oak savannah to make way for the state’s first commercial vineyard in 1850, as well as the apple, date, prune, and apricot trees. The valley was the west coast’s banner fruit-producing region up to the 1960s. In the 1870s, out-of-towners arrived on the newly-constructed Southern Pacific rail line in the hamlet of Los Angeles, where they cleared the abundant native grasslands and chaparral of the San Gabriel foothills. For many years thereafter, that future megalopolis was the US’ primary citrus growing area.

Massive water diversions have always followed soon after the land clearances. Donald Worster’s Rivers of Empire and Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert most famously chronicled California’s damming and moving of prodigious amounts of water, primarily to meet the demands of the state’s much-vaunted industrial farmers.

via Anderson Valley, Tentacle Of The Wine Grape Octopus | Anderson Valley Advertiser.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , Leave a comment on The wrath of grapes

The wrath of grapes

Alastair Bland, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

How a Goldman Sachs executive is helping to kill Mark West Creek— and what the county isn’t doing about it

For decades, Sonoma County’s wine industry has been thriving. The county’s salmon and steelhead, meanwhile, are vanishing, and some fisheries biologists, attorneys and conservationists assure that the wine industry’s gain is the Russian River’s loss.

To Patrick Higgins, the story boils down to a one-line synopsis: "The county is trading fish for wine." Higgins is a private-practice fisheries biologist in Arcata. Among his ongoing battles to save the North Coast’s struggling fish species, including federally endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout, is the fight for Mark West Creek.

Though many streams naturally dry up during the arid summers of Sonoma County, this small tributary of the Russian River historically has not. Mark West Creek was once the main spawning stream for the steelhead and coho salmon that made the Russian River famous.

But lately, Mark West and its feeder streams have been running dry, according to residents who live nearby. Jim Doerksen, who has lived within sight of Mark West Creek for 43 years, has been measuring its flow levels since 2005 after visibly dwindling water levels spurred concern. Between 2006 and 2009, he says, its flows almost entirely vanished each summer. In 2008, Doerksen measured what might have been the lowest flow ever recorded in Mark West Creek, a volume of six one-hundredths of a cubic foot per second.

via The Wrath of Grapes | Culture | North Bay Bohemian.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , Leave a comment on On Memory & Forgetting in Wine Country

On Memory & Forgetting in Wine Country

Will Parrish, ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER

Soon after I became outspoken in my criticism of the regional wine industry, I began having conversations with local people for whom this issue is deeply personal. Across recent decades, the sprawling North Coast booze sector has recklessly reconfigured landbases, sucked waterways dry, killed off scores of wildlife, drenched the land with chemicals, and imposed its particular brand of sterilized country life on previously more vibrant pastoral settlements — all of this on the basis of exploited migrant labor, which comprise the industry’s main contribution to the local job base. Although you would never know it by reading the Santa Rosa Press Democrat or tuning into local TV newscasts, these practices have not actually endeared Big Wine to most people — especially those who have experienced them first-hand. Some North Coast residents refer to the pervasive change from forest and rangeland to vineyards as “grape rape.”

Yet, for all of the deep-seated resentment the wine industry has bred, opposition to it has never been part of an insurgent social movement. That’s in contrast to organized resistance to the timber industry, which was a significant regional political force throughout the ’90s.

via On Memory & Forgetting in Wine Country | Anderson Valley Advertiser.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, WaterTags , , Leave a comment on The North Coast Wine Industry’s Latest Coup De Grace: Draining Our Rivers Dry

The North Coast Wine Industry’s Latest Coup De Grace: Draining Our Rivers Dry

Will Parrish, ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER

The latest in the North Coast wine oligarchy’s long series of legislative coups de grace occurs on December 14th, as this issue of the Anderson Valley Advertiser goes to press. In what will surely be a 5-0 vote, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will rubber-stamp new regulations on frost protection in the Russian River water basin, now in its death throes after having been continuously ravaged by several generations of extractive enterprise.

In recent decades, the once-simple act of protecting new bud growth on grape vines from frigid temperatures has become tantamount to a war on rivers. The predominantly corporate alcohol farmers who wield executive authority over the North Coast’s land and politics almost universally combat frost damage via systems of overhead sprinklers that sprawl out across each row of grapes, dowsing them with a continuous coat of water on spring nights when local temperatures drop into the 20s.

via The North Coast Wine Industry’s Latest Coup De Grace: Draining Our Rivers Dry | Anderson Valley Advertiser.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , Leave a comment on Sonoma County, Banana Republic of Wine-Grapes

Sonoma County, Banana Republic of Wine-Grapes

Will Parrish, ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER

In 1993, American wine industry goliath E&J Gallo (annual revenue: $2 billion) founded its first subsidiary dedicated solely to producing high-end, “premium” vintages: Gallo of Sonoma. The move reflected a dramatic shift for the Gallo empire, which accounts for one in four bottles sold in the US wine market.

For several decades, Gallo’s forte was cheap, fortified jug wines such as Thunderbird and Night Train — each at least 18 percent alcohol by volume. The company initially cornered this dubious market in the ’50s and ’60s, via clever ad campaigns complemented by aggressive promotions in so-called inner-city “colored bars” (a process described by journalist Ellen Hawkes in her book Blood and Wine) and off-reservation American Indian communities. The dislocation, poverty, and alienation endemic to many of these areas provided fertile grounds for alcoholism, which the Gallo patriarchs Ernest and Julio shamelessly bred and profited from.

via Sonoma County, Banana Republic of Wine-Grapes | Anderson Valley Advertiser.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, WaterTags , , Leave a comment on Booze, A Banker & A Bailout: The Murder Of Mark West Creek

Booze, A Banker & A Bailout: The Murder Of Mark West Creek

Will Parrish, ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER

As the Director of Merchant Banking at America’s most politically well-connected investment firm, Goldman Sachs, Henry L. Cornell is accustomed to reaping the benefits of political oligarchy. (Webster definition: “a government in which a small group exercises control, especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.”) His company exerts a profound influence in the corridors of both national and global power, not only by shaping legislation to the benefit of the interlocking financial, real estate, and investment industries, but by helping set the rules under which policy battles are waged in the first place. The multi-trillion dollar 2008 bailout of the banking industry, authored by then-Treasury Secretary and former Goldman CEO Henry Paulson, is only the most famous example.

As with the US in general, the County of Sonoma is controlled by a disproportionately small group of people. On the whole, their purposes are selfish and corrupt. Whereas the political oligarchy that calls the shots nationally consists mainly of representatives of the financial, real estate, hydrocarbon, military-industrial, and agribusiness sectors, the oligarchs who set the overall agenda at 575 Administration Drive, Santa Rosa, are primarily representatives of a single business: wine.

via Booze, A Banker & A Bailout: The Murder Of Mark West Creek | Anderson Valley Advertiser.