It’s a “sort of grapes versus eggs story,” reported an excellent Aug. 6 Press Democrat story (“Backlash over closure”). The Windsor Oaks Vineyard and Winery, seeking to expand its events, forced the closure of the popular Wise Acre Farm’s egg stand, disappointing many local food customers.
Selling eggs directly to people for years, Wise Acre owners Bryan Boyd and Raina Brolan were forced to shut down their operation by the winery that owns the road to the stand.
A growing backlash against the wine industry erupted on Yelp’s social media platform, supporting the food farmers. Many online criticisms of the winery were posted by The Press Democrat. The most frequent description of the winery was “bully.”
It’s a classic David vs. Goliath story, with the wine industry as Sonoma County’s Goliath. Its high-paid lobbyists and marketers re-branded this region from our cherished, natural “Redwood Empire” to their commercial “Wine Country.” Goliath hoards more than its fair share of water, agricultural land and road space. These wine barons run a wine empire.
Wise Acre is a local David. Most wineries here are owned by large corporate investors from Wall Street and outside the United State, increasingly from Asia. “The Myth of the Family Winery: Global Corporations Behind California Wine,” published by the Marin Institute, documents this. A few alcohol companies own most of the wine production here, including E & J Gallo, The Wine Group, Constellation Brands, Foster’s, Brown-Foreman Kentucky and Altria Group, which also owns Phillip Morris and Marlboro cigarettes.
Wise Acre needs $7,000 to $10,000 to build a new driveway. Goliath would not blink to spend that on more wine-inspired parties. But for authentic small family farmers who already work 12-hour days caring for 1,200 chickens, it’s a lot of money.
A photo accompanying the article shows chickens and a huge Great Pyrenees guard dog, which fights off predators like foxes, skunks, bobcats and raccoons. But it was two-legged predators who shut down a small family farm that used to feed now irate people.
Closing the road is “a pretty un-neighborly thing,” customer Carrie Marvin told PD reporter Clark Mason. “I’m so sad. This is an agricultural area,” she added. With community support, David may still prevail.
Sonoma County’s lucrative wine industry promotes itself as sustainable. It has had two expensive, full-page, color ads in the PD and other publications.
That’s after leveling hillsides and clear-cutting redwood forests and oak woodlands. More recently, they have been replacing apple orchards with industrial vineyards, while continuing to use poisonous pesticides.
The winegrowers sponsored a Sustainable Field Day on July 31, which this food farmer attended. Their claim to being sustainable is false advertising. True sustainability includes a triple bottom line: profits, environmental protection and social equity.
The wine empire is certainly profitable. The conference was totally market-driven and presented no proof of environmental or social justice practices. Nor was it in the field at the farm. This “field” day was held indoors with no connection to the land, earth, grapes, plants or nature.
We need diverse, resilient agriculture and economies. It saddens me to see people deprived of good, healthy eggs to be replaced by expanded parties and wine tastings. After all, how much wine can one eat?
One of the most important things that my Grandma Laura taught us on our Iowa diversified food farm in the late 1940s was to “share your toys.” If the wine industry could learn this, Sonoma County would be a better place to live.