The Marin Post

The Voice of the Community

Blog Post

James Faulkner

Vineyards, Farms, and Biodiversity


For the last seven years, I have represented California River Watch in efforts to get Sonoma County vintners to mitigate the environmental harm caused by their vineyards in the Russian River Valley.

Vineyards are terrible for the environment. The farmers deep rip around 8 feet to kill all other plants, apply herbicide and rodenticide, and till the rows to kill anything else. This includes USDA organically certified farms.

These practices kill the rodents (ground squirrels and pocket gophers) that dig holes that endangered California tiger salamander and other amphibians use for estivation and protection from predators. (Estivation is summer hibernation.)

Over the last 7 years, River Watch issued Endangered Species Act notice letters to about 40 of these vintners. Most such letters were ignored and River Watch sued, unless they were small mom and pop properties. Many of the vintners themselves were not aware. The vineyard managers though are. Many are old time Sonoma County industry consultants who don't care about biodiversity.

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We ended up settling dozens of cases, which settlements included the requirements that the vintners: stop using rodenticide, reduce tilling, start using native plants, and restoring swales that create the low lying ponds that amphibians breed in. The cost to the vintners is minimal.

Some vintners, such as the Sanchietti and Carinalli farms and Martinelli Vineyards on River Road, embraced the practices and have done a very good job.

Visit their tasting rooms and make a nice comment!

But many North Bay vintners are goaded by the reactionary Farm Bureau, which fights every single ecologically beneficial practice. Many of the related wineries are happy to tout their supposed "green practices" under the almost useless USDA organic guidelines but, will fight like hell to not lose one grape.

Its a tough battle. But if you have a relationship with a vintner or a favorite winery, please contact them and urge them to go beyond the weak USDA organic rules and protect biodiversity by following the above steps.

If you or the vintner want specifics they can contact me or River Watch.