Governor urges unity in drought fight during visit to Sonoma County’s Iron Horse Vineyards

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Gov. Jerry Brown used an Earth Day celebration at Sonoma County’s Iron Horse Vineyards on Sunday to applaud California’s environmental leadership and reassure residents the state will survive its historic four-year drought by tapping its reservoirs of innovation and creativity.

“I wouldn’t worry about the drought. Just don’t use too much water,” the governor quipped at the event north of Sebastopol. “If we all pull together, I think we can get through it.”

Brown was the surprise speaker at an event that also featured remarks by Santa Rosa climber Kevin Jorgeson and raised funds for the B-Rad Foundation, which honors the life of fallen climber and Jorgeson’s friend, Brad Parker.

Iron Horse Vineyards CEO Joy Sterling said the 300-acre estate winery in the Green Valley appellation epitomized the environmental stewardship honored on Earth Day, which officially marks its 45th year Wednesday.

“Anywhere you look you are going to see love of the land,” Sterling said from a tent beside verdant chardonnay and pinot noir vines. “Where better to celebrate Earth Day than Green Valley?”

Sterling’s family has close ties to Brown’s. Her mother, Audrey Sterling, served as Fair Employment Practices Commission under Brown’s father, Gov. Pat Brown. Sterling herself sits on the state’s Food and Agricultural Board.

Far from dismissing the threats of the ongoing drought, Brown stressed its seriousness. He noted that what many see as a “new normal” of more droughts and higher temperatures is drying out soils, impacting forestlands and extending the state’s fire season by two to three months.

But he stressed there is “a lot of water” that could be put to greater use, including seawater through desalination, graywater from people’s sinks and laundry, recycling treated wastewater and capturing rain water.

“There are literally millions of acre feet that we can, in essence, find, utilize, just through efficiency and innovation and wise use,” Brown said. “There is a challenge, but the challenge then stimulates people’s creativity.”

The state’s wine industry has a mixed record on water use. Some areas have made significant strides in water efficiency and sustainability. But overall water use remains high (it takes many gallons of water to produce the average glass of wine) and the use of water for frost protection can impact rivers and creeks that are habitat for endangered salmon.

Some have criticized Brown’s drought restrictions as focusing exclusively on urban water users and ignoring farmers, who use by some estimates 80 percent of the state’s available water. In an interview after his remarks, Brown said plenty of farmers are struggling but many are also innovative when it comes to water use.

But he said the state’s $50 billion agriculture industry is diverse and he’s not in a position to tell farmers which crops they should grow from a water-efficiency perspective.

“Do you think we should say fewer almonds and more cotton? More grapes? Which kind of grapes? Do some grapes take more water than others? I don’t know,” Brown said. “We’re all in this together.”

In his remarks, Brown also highlighted the importance of addressing climate change and the state’s leadership role in doing so.

“We are driving the climate change debate in the United States,” Brown said, citing renewable energy requirements, cap-and-trade legislation, and green building initiatives.

Following the governor’s presentation, Jorgeson, 30, spoke about free climbing the Dawn Wall of El Capitan with partner Tommy Caldwell. Their 19-day ascent up the 3,000-foot-high sheer column of granite in Yosemite Valley, considered by many the most difficult rock climb ever accomplished, made them rock stars not only in the climbing community but worldwide.

When he asked the group of about 200 people how many followed the climb, nearly every hand went up.

“We thought that climbers would follow along. But we never imagined the world would follow along in the way that they did,” Jorgeson said.

Jorgeson and Caldwell celebrated atop El Capitan with a bottle of Iron Horse Vineyards bubbly. The winery recently released 300 cases of 2010 “Summit Cuvee” whose final blend Jorgeson helped select.

Jorgeson stressed that the pair’s accomplishments would not have been possible without a supportive community behind them.

He thanked photographer and friend Jerry Dodrill, whose stunning images of the climb were on display at the winery, Sarah McKay, co-owner of climbing gym Vertex Climbing Center, and Parker, a 36-year-old fellow free spirit who was killed in a fall in August on Yosemite’s Matthes Crest the same day he proposed to his girlfriend, Jainee Dial.

“Brad was in the fabric and is still in the fabric of everything around us,” Jorgeson said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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