Spring has always waxed poetic for me: Wildflowers in bloom, birds singing, vibrant breezes off the Petaluma Gap whisking through the mountains and valleys like a perfectly synchronized fleet of Blue Angels, the warm sun on the faces of thousand of migrant workers as they are driven in flatbeds up the mountains and into the valleys to prepare and repair the damage done to the vineyards by Mother Nature’s wrath of this past season, Easter bunnies hopping through the vineyards, and the clinking of bottles as they rattle down the line to be filled with a perfectly aged elixir and sealed with cork from Quercus suber trees, carefree farmers strolling through their vineyards looking ahead to the slow growing season ahead and all that money that they’ll be rolling in...sckreeeaaaachhh...stop the bus! There’s more bullshit in that description than in Mitch Hawkins' biodynamic vineyard.
Wine is made of the earth. The sun, the wind and the rain take most of the credit for these delightful berries to grow into glorious grapes, but it is the soil that gives wine its true taste of terroir, a sense of place. Scientists have shown us the process of photosynthesis using sunlight to extract carbon dioxide from the air and combine it with water to produce sugars. So what does soil have to do with it? Water is drawn up through its roots where carbo-hydration takes place. The earth is made of many layers which form above the earth's bedrock surface, and for most plants, the more nutrients in these layer, the better the plant's fruit. But wine is different. It needs to be deprived of too much water and nutrients. Certain varieties thrive in alluvial soil, which is washed down mountains and rivers. Shallow soil can create a more balanced wine. Gravel can reflect the sun to the underside of the vine leaf. But can you really taste volcanic ash, and puddle stones and chalk? Can you actually taste the iodine-rich Kimmeridgian bedrock of Chablis? Great winemakers and scientists have debated this for years, but for now, let's keep the worms in the subsoil.
Winemakers have been manipulating soil and irrigation for quite some time now. Some of these manipulations are, in fact, harming our earth: Insecticides, fining agents, irrigation techniques. We are trying to fool Mother Nature, and for those of you who are old enough to remember, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature". Not all wines should be biodynamic or 100% organic, but they should be 100% sustainable for the future and that's where we face our biggest challenges.
When I was a small child, I remember the very first “Earth Day”. We drew pictures of trees and butterflies in art class, we sang songs of how “Everything is Beautiful, in it’s Own Way”, we played in a grass field during Phys. Ed, and we were all given small oak trees to plant in honor of Mother Earth. Yes, this was PUBLIC SCHOOL. I took my oak tree and planted it in front of our house by the beach in sandy soil and watered it every day, I mean, every day (two buckets being lugged from the backyard) sometimes twice a day. This thing just wouldn’t grow. I was devastated. Just one block away, my friend's oak tree thrived. When I did that thing where you go back to your childhood home and knock on the door, my oak tree was long gone, replaced by sea oats and perfectly landscaped perennials purchased at Home Depot, just like every other front lawn on the block. It was pretty, but it lacked character. My friend’s oak tree stood mighty and tall. It had been mostly ignored it’s entire life less the occasional pruning. It was all about the soil not the toil.
Just one year ago, on April 22, 2016, the Paris Climate Agreement signing was opened to 196 nations at the United Nations in New York during a grand celebration which would honor changes that would take action to lower carbon emissions and create a resilient and sustainable future. It was the first agreement that joined all participating nations in a common cause based on their past, present and future responsibilities. More importantly, it put Earth’s future not only in the hands of leaders and governments, but rather it called on all citizens to do their part...Just one year ago.
As we round the corner for, what could be, our last “Earth Day”, there will be another march on our nation’s Capitol. This time it’s the scientists who are pissed and leading the charge, and there are few things that are scarier than a pack of nerd on a mission. Women’s Marches, LGBTQ Marches, Black Lives Matter Marches, Anti-Cheetos Marches...sure, we’ve been marching, and we’ve been loud - but marching is only a group of small steps in the right direction. We need to take great strides in repairing our relationship with Mother Earth: the world's greatest scientist, artist, teacher and nurturer. But we have pissed her off and it's time we say we're sorry.