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Blair touts solar project at Graton wine operation

  • Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, middle, tours Sonoma Wine Company in Graton, Thursday Nov. 4, 2010 with Wine Company owner Derek Benham, left and venture capitailst Vinod Khosla. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2010

It's not every day that a former world leader shows up in downtown Graton.

But there was ex-British prime minister Tony Blair, helping dedicate a first-of-its-kind solar energy project Thursday at Graton's largest employer, Sonoma Wine Company.

"This is a technology with a real chance to succeed," said Blair, who was hired last May as senior adviser to Khosla Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture fund that bankrolls green energy startups.

Tony Blair Visits Sonoma Wine Company

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Blair joined Khosla Ventures' Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and backer of Cogenra Solar, the startup that built the solar project in Graton.

"I hope this is the first of many such things," said Blair, the United Kingdom's political leader from 1997 to 2007.

He arrived at the winery Thursday in a caravan of black SUVs, surrounded by security from Scotland Yard and the U.S. Secret Service.

He apparently was struck by the West County's rolling hills and gold-colored vineyards. "It's a nice place to be if you're from the other side of the water," he said. "It kind of reminds me of Europe."

He ducked a question about Tuesday's U.S. elections, which gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives.

"The elections are for you, not for me," Blair said.

Blair's strong support of the Bush administration and U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan led to criticism from his own Labour Party and eventually forced him to step down.


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