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Slow earth

San Francisco, California: Again, I must start with a Reese update: He is doing well. No big change today. Lisa ran the Human Race tonight and actually had to ask a friend to stay with Reese, as he still can't be left alone. Lisa said with 30,000 runners competing, she crossed the starting line about the time the leaders crossed the finish line. But she finished! Yeah, Lisa!

For my last day at Slow Food Nation, I booked a Slow Journey (100 miles north of San Francisco) to Mendocino County to visit a Solar Farm and sample some of the most cutting-edge wines in the country. The bus left the Civic Center at 8 o'clock and headed north on Highway 101. The weather was perfect!

Our first stop was to the Solar Living Institute in Hopland. I thought I was having a college flashback, but we were indeed at the Solar Living Center - not Eugene. The Solar Living Center promotes "sustainable living through inspirational environmental education".

These few solar panels can power 30 homes - these panels are wired directly into the grid

The sign on the garden shed reads, "Have you hugged an intern today?" There are eight interns on the campus - living in a communal yurt. All were recent college grads and stay at the center for 6-8 months. The interns grow their own food at the center in an organic vegetable garden which is irrigated from a well - pumped by a wind mill!

Vegetable garden at the Solar Living Center

Water feature - again fed by the wind-mill water pump

Our guide Josh - Electrical Engineering, Oklahoma State

The Solar Living Institute operates the very popular Real Goods store (and catalog)

Another guide, Eric Fry, showed us a solar sprinkler set up in the children's play area. When the attached solar panel faced the sun, the sprinkler shot water high. If you put the shadow of your body over the solar panel, the power to the sprinkler pump was diminished, and when the panel was turned away the water stopped altogether. Unbelievably the panel was only the size of a typical newspaper. All the power created at the Center is either used immediately or put back into the grid - none is stored in batteries. I discussed RV solar panels with Eric, as he knew all the ins and outs of collecting and storing energy in RV batteries using solar panels. (I did not mention to Eric that our bus also has with a 3000w diesel generator.)

On to our next stop: the delightful Yvonne Hall and her organic olive press. Olivino provides olive pressing services to many growers in the area, plus sell olive trees as nursery stock, sell their own olive oil, Terra Savia... and, of course, make wine! First Ms. Hall gave us a tour of her olive pressing facility. Olivino has the old-fashioned traditional granite stone mill and the newer, faster, better stainless steel crusher.

Olive crushing/pressing machinery from Italy

Our tour guide, Julie (white top) watches as we sample Terra
Savia oil, served plain - and infused with garlic and herbs

Yvonne Hall opens a jar of Terra Savia
honey for us to taste

Also at Olivino, Diana Schraner cures olives to sell at the local farmers market. Olive trees are everywhere around the property. The trees may look like landscape plants lining a drive, but all fruit from the trees is crushed or cured. One ton of olives will yield somewhere around 30-45 gallons of oil. Everything left over from the crush is composted and used to fertilize the trees and grape vines. Water used in the process is kept to spray on the dirt roads on the farm: the little bit of oil remaining in the water helps keep the dust down!

The Terra Savia farm dog

All of this food talk was making the group hungry! How about a gourmet lunch and a wine tasting prepared by Sip! of Mendocino? Many of the smaller vineyards and family-owned wineries didn't have tasting rooms. Bernadette Byrne decided the public needed to taste these hard-to-find Mendocino vintages, so opened Sip! in downtown Hopland. Today, she poured a flight of four wines and prepared a gourmet buffet lunch of grilled chicken sausages, grilled vegetables, panzanella, green salad and a white peach cobbler.

Bernadette Byrne of Sip! Mendocino

Especially selected for the Slow Food group, Bernadette Byrne poured a 2006 biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc from Patianna, Demuth 2004 Anderson Valley Estate Chardonnay, Migration 2007 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir and Whaler Vineyard 2004 Flagship Zinfandel.

Let's eat!

Sip! Mendocino is a great little wine shop - and Byrne also carries great kitchen items, wine accessories and fabulous local pottery. Stop in if you are in Hopland and tell her Slow Foods sent you!

Now it was time to visit two biodynamic vineyards! Mendocino County is called the greenest wine area in the county for a reason - they have 6 certified biodynamic vineyards, 28 organic vineyards, 22 sustainable vineyards and one winery that uses 100% solar power. That said, the biggest crop in Mendocino County is still marijuana...

We visited Fairbairn Ranch, 22 acres of Syrah grapes planted by Golden Vineyards. Fairbairn Ranch was once planted in hops - Hopland was one of the biggest hop-growing areas before Prohibition - and the old hop drying barn and kiln still survive on the property.

The view of the vineyard from the top of the hop kiln

Julie Golden talks to our group about biodynamic farming - her husband, Joe, is in the blue shirt

Of course, Julie Golden poured their Syrah - and of course
she served cheese, breads, nuts and honey from their farm

Nearly ready: within ten days the grapes will be harvested

Vineyard Manager Jerry Yates (right) discusses sugar content of the grapes with our group

I have to say, by this time a few travelers in our group were getting a little loopy! (I would go so far to say that one woman was smashed. It was actually quite interesting to see how the group became friendlier and friendlier and louder and louder the more wine they consumed.) So guess what Julie did next? Took us to another vineyard to another wine tasting! 

A girl can't get too much biodynamic wine!

Our last stop was to a beautiful piece of property, hidden away in the hills northwest of Hopland. Bonterra is one of the earliest vineyards to be certified organic. Ann Thrupp met our group, poured us a glass of wine and told us about how Bonterra believes in the "Three E's" (economy, environment and equity) and this tenet drives the entire company. The winery operates on 100% renewable energy and is so conscious about recycling they only produced 60 cubic yards of waste last YEAR! An entire vineyard!

Biodynamic farming goes beyond organic. It is a holistic way of farming - protecting the soil and using the phases of the moon to plan plowing, sowing, and harvesting. Common biodynamic farming procedures include (for example) planting clover between the grape vine rows, then having sheep graze on the clover... then sending in chickens to pick through everything. This routine provides vital nutrients back into the soil, feeds the animals and soon the animals and grapes will be feeding us! Healthy soils grow healthy plants and healthy plants are more resistant to disease and pests - and healthy plants grow better grapes!

The beautiful "tasting barn" at Bonterra

Ann Thrupp (blue flowered blouse) talks to our group about Bonterra

Let's go outside and have another glass of wine!

James Bernard, Executive Director of the Mendocino Land Trust

James Bernard, Executive Director of the Mendocino Land Trust, met our Slow Food tour at Bonterra and talked about the work the trust is doing to preserve and protect land in the county from development - and to keep it forever as family farm land. As we walked through the property, Bernard pointed out still-wild areas on the hillsides and talked about how important these hills are in supporting the 300 types of birds and animals that live in Mendocino County. (He is also a huge track & field fan!)

Bonterra biodynamic vines

The Bonterra winemakers lead us out to a gorgeous old pump house tower in the middle of their vineyards - the "Merlot" tower - and guess what awaited us on the covered patio below the tower?

Merlot Tower

Merlot! Yes, another wine tasting! Just in time; several of us were still standing.

Ann Thrupp talks wine with our group

We had to get back to San Francisco. Several of us had other Slow Food events to attend this evening. We loaded back on the bus, and our driver flew down Highway 101, but we arrived back far too late for me to attend my dinner and too late for several others to attend their events. One too many vineyards, I suppose, but I am happy we went to them all. Biodynamic farming is a fascinating subject. I love that "what is old is new again" and that ancient growing practices are once again being used to grow wonderful foods.

I never did venture out my my hotel room after arriving back at 8 o'clock and am flying home tomorrow morning. Slow Food Nation is over! Until my next adventure, I remain, your Slow correspondent.