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Vinters 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 agricultural area."
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 consideration.

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.