Daily News Archive
Blame Pesticides for Damages
(Beyond Pesticides, July 9, 2004) Two Napa Valley vintners
are blaming the California parks service for the destruction of some
very expensive grapes, according to the Wine
Spectator. Larry Turley of Turley Wine Cellars and Chuck McMinn
of Vineyard 29 claim that pesticide spraying in a state park last month
accidentally damaged their vineyards, resulting in the loss of as much
as $500,000 of small-production wines.
State parks officials deny that the herbicide sprayings at Bothe-Napa
Valley State Park were responsible for the damage. The incident is being
investigated by the Napa County agricultural commissioner's office,
which has taken foliage samples from the affected vineyards for lab
analysis, reports the Wine Spectator.
According to Turley, who farms organically, the herbicide spray drifted
and "came down the highway, obliterated fruit from my vines and
nuked the crop off my olive trees." Turley, whose winery specializes
in high-end Zinfandel, discovered shriveled grape clusters and brown
leaves on a half-acre of vines in his 3-acre estate vineyard, which
is across the street from the park. "It killed the vegetable garden
at my house, my hydrangeas, privet, roses -- anything that's fast-growing."
"The damage was insidious," Turley added. "At first,
you'd walk by and see something that's brown and you think maybe it
just didn't get enough water. But now, all these things are dying around
me, and my kids are here, and it's all been done by the guys who are
supposed to be looking after our state parks. Something's amiss here."
Turley, who lost some wine in a Paso Robles earthquake last December,
said the vine damage could amount to at least 135 cases of estate Zinfandel,
worth $50,000 to $70,000. (In a typical year, he makes 600 cases of
estate Zinfandel, with production of all his wines totaling up to 14,000
cases.) He said he also fears that the incident could temporarily cost
him his organic certification, which requires three years without the
use of pesticides on a property.
Vineyard 29 owner Chuck McMinn estimated that 2.63 acres of vines were
damaged in his Aida vineyard, which lies north of Turley's property.
The Aida grapes are used for a vineyard-designated Zinfandel and other
red wines; his boutique winery produces only a few hundred cases of
each. "If we have to drop all the fruit, our total losses in terms
of retail sales will be close to $450,000," he said.
Park officials acknowledge they used two herbicides, Round Up and Garlon
4, to eradicate a nonnative plant known as vinca from the vicinity of
the Old Bale Mill on park grounds. But they said that employees applied
the product strictly according to instructions on the product label.
Garlon 4's label reads: "Do not apply Garlon 4 directly to, or
otherwise permit it to come into direct contact with grapes, tobacco,
vegetable crops, flowers or other desirable broadleaf plants and do
not permit spray mists containing it to drift onto them." The label
suggests using a smoke device to determine the direction and velocity
of wind before spraying.
Don Monahan, district supervisor for the state parks department, said
employees mixed a weak solution of Garlon 4 and applied it early in
the morning, when wind drift is minimal. "We take great care in
protecting our resources and being a good neighbor," said Monahan,
who is awaiting the results of the lab tests ordered by the county.
"I'd certainly like to get to the bottom of this."
But McMinn said, "Our vineyard people believe that Garlon 4, which
is the most volatile form of Garlon, was sprayed on a hot, windy day,
and the normally liquid Garlon 4 volatized into a gas that was carried
on the wind across the highway into all of our vineyard."
"I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they'll do
the right thing," said McMinn, who has not taken legal action.
"I think they know this isn't an appropriate thing to do in an
Napa County agricultural commissioner Dave Whitmer said his department
can levy a $5,000-per-violation fine for inappropriate use of pesticides,
and could turn information over to the district attorney's office for
Drift is a major problem not just for vinters. According to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Each year, states receive
about 2,500 complaints of drift from individuals.” In 2002, nearly
half of the reported pesticide illness cases in California were individuals
who were exposed as a result of pesticide drift. Researchers believe
that reported occurrences are a fraction of actual incidents.
TAKE ACTION: Work against drift in your own
community by advocating for sustainable, organic alternatives to pesticide
use. If smaller steps seem more realistic, you can work toward specific
technical fixes such as buffer zones, notification, wind breaks and
enforcement of pesticide regulations.