The Dark Side of Sonoma’s Sustainability Movement: No to Organics, Deep Deception, Nonenforcement of Prohibited Chemicals

“Today Sonoma has fewer than 2 percent organic vines, compared to Napa with 7.3{5fc40a96f14c4a6aa4c2a32569b0a57dcc67c0b31eb04c341474283f11b6cdd2} certified organic vines.”

The Dark Side of Sonoma’s Sustainability Movement: No to Organics, Deep Deception, Nonenforcement of Prohibited Chemicals

Prohibited Chemicals

Last year the number of acres of organic vineyards in Sonoma County declined 11 percent.

The decline in certified acreage in Sonoma coincides with the advent of the Sonoma County Winegrowers’ move to adopt sustainability practices, sometimes at the expense of organic practices.

While the move to employ sustainable practices is well intentioned and a positive, there are negatives that tend to downgrade the program’s reputation, according to local observers:

Eliminating programs that support organic viticulture
• Deceptively portraying one grower as organic (when it is not) and overstating accomplishments in marketing campaigns
• Failing to enforce its stated standards

Greenwashing 1011. Eliminating Organic Grower Meetups

Under the leadership of Karissa Kruse, the group moved to end organic meetup groups, where growers could learn about organic viticulture on vineyard visits to various Sonoma organic vineyards.

2. Deception

The county’s winegrowers are promoting what some would see as deceptive storytelling in the group’s latest Sustainability report’s feature on Marimar Torres’ “organic practices.” That winery began using synthetic herbicides and fungicides in 2013.

3. Lack of Enforcement

In addition, the Sonoma Sustainability group does not appear to be enforcing the sustainable certification standards on the use of prohibited substances. Steve Dutton, a prominent grower who is the president of the Sonoma Farm Bureau (and whose brother Jim heads up the Sonoma Winegrowers), is using vineyard chemicals prohibited by the CSWA standard in the family’s vineyards, showing a total lack of enforcement.

Organic Grower Meetups: No More

I remember attending one of these at Preston Farm & Winery, back in the day, and a lot of of good information was provided and great questions were asked and answered. There were shared lunches, and a lot of learning took place in a comfortable environment.

Today Sonoma has fewer than 2 percent organic vines, compared to Napa with 7.3{5fc40a96f14c4a6aa4c2a32569b0a57dcc67c0b31eb04c341474283f11b6cdd2} certified organic vines.

Napa’s Growers proudly sponsor the country’s only Organic Winegrowing conference, which takes place every other year.

The Sonoma organization ditched the organic meetups; now all meetings focus on sustainability.

Sonoma’s Sustainability Greenwashing: How Misleading Can It Get?

The Marimar Torres Story: Sowing the Seeds of Organic Confusion

Sonoma’s latest sustainability champion, Marimar Torres, is featured in the 2017 Sonoma Wine Growers’s Sustainability Report (italics mine):

“For more than a decade, the vineyards at Marimar Estate have been farmed with organic practices—with the idea of improved, more balanced ecological health. In January, the estate took what Vineyard Manager Tony Britton considers to be a more encompassing step that builds upon its organic background—they became certified sustainable.

It was a natural step, he says, for an organic, family-owned vineyard in Green Valley to become certified sustainable. In their 70 acres of vines,* Britton uses cover crops to attract beneficial insects and nourish the soil, as well as composting and relying on solar energy. In addition, he has refrained from spraying pesticides since 1996.

In reading this, would you think that Marimar Torres is either certified or “practicing” organic today?

It is neither.

In his comment about pesticides, Britton is apparently saying he doesn’t use insecticides, which may be true. But he does use herbicides and fungicides (that are not organic).

Though Marimar Torres was formerly certified organic on its Green Valley vineyard in 2003 and later its Freestone vineyard, the winery gave up on organic practices and started farming with chemicals that are prohibited under organic certification on its Freestone vineyard in 2013 and on its Green Valley property surrounding the winery in 2016.

The winery has surrendered all of its organic certifications – and it has stopped being organic in its practices.
Here is the list from the company’s 2017-2018 Pesticide Use Report of chemicals it sprayed on the 60 acres (not 70) at Marimar Torres two estate properties:

• Roundup (glyphosate, carcinogen)
• Elevate Fungicide
• Flint Fungicide
• Inspire Fungicide
• Mettle Fungicide
• Viticure Fungicide

None of these is permitted under organic certification.

Furthermore, the story goes on to say that heritage and the next generation is important to Torres. “The legacy of passing it down generations is in the family,” Britton says. “Sustainability speaks to that.”

So why would using genotoxic substances (like Roundup) be a good thing to use? Genotoxic substances affect one’s DNA.

Would You Trust This Label?

Sonoma Farm Bureau President Steve Dutton: Using CSWA Prohibited Substances While Certified Sustainable

The Sonoma Sustainability Program is based on the Wine Institute’s CSWA program. Under the CSWA’s guidelines, vineyards may not use a list of prohibited chemicals on what it calls the red list.

Mancozeb is one of the red list chemicals.

Here is what the CSWA says: “Vineyards that are Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE) may not use Red List materials by their second year of certification.”

Dutton Estate Winery’s sustainability page declares that the winery is “an active participant in the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) and has been certified since 2016. Accordingly, Dutton displays CSWA certified signs around it vineyard.

But he applied the prohibited chemical Mancozeb.

Steve Dutton continued to use Mancozeb in 2017 and in 2018. Three emails were sent to the CSWA by me and more by others in his community raising concerns about his use of Mancozeb. No emails from CSWA indicated any course of action regarding Dutton’s use of this chemical (which most wineries no longer use). Perhaps Dutton was unaware of the prohibitions, but what kind of certification program allows that to happen?

The winery announced that it will be labeling its wines with the Certified Sustainable logo beginning with the 2017 vintage.

So, what’s in the bottle?