Monthly Archives: July 2009

My Big Green Weekend

Confession: it’s been a while since Your West Coast Oenophile has honed in the sustainable component of Sostevinobile. All things in due course, so they say, and my focus on putting together such a comprehensive wine program must remain the paramount focus of my efforts (oh, and then there’s the not inconsiderable demands of sourcing the financing needed to power our proverbial environmentally-friendly engine). Nonetheless, my sojourn this past weekend introduced me to an array of sustainable ventures and innovations encircling the San Francisco Bay.

I finally made the trek Saturday to the new Berkeley Bowl West, a paean to both sustainable food and environmental design, with its 140,000 sq. ft. solar-powered facility. There’s a decidedly different dynamic to this outpost, though hard to tell whether it’s just the newness of the site (technically, they’re still celebrating their Grand Opening) or whether something different is indeed underway. The new store seems almost minimalist in comparison with its parent location—not in terms of its selection of fresh produce, which remains quite vast, but in its sense of layout and decor. The new store is clean and linear, whereas the old store seems cluttered and funky.

Described by its architects as “a one-of-a-kind, green, environmentally friendly, and sustainable marketplace”, the former feels like a showcase for green architecture;the latter, an elaborate indoor farmer’s market. The clientele at Berkeley Bowl West looked notably different; still in time, perhaps, a more tie-dyed æsthetic will emerge. Also absent, in a most welcome sense, were the interminable checkout lines that inundate the Oregon Street facility.
The solar rooftop panels at Berkeley Bowl West are expected to generate 149,633 kWh—the equivalent of 179,560 lbs. in carbon dioxide emissionsevery year. Amidst the illumination provided by this renewable energy, I made my perfunctory inspection, sampled a few of the freebies, snuck a sun-dried tomato slice from the bulk bins, then wandered across the courtyard to its adjacent satellite, the Berkeley Bowl Cafe, where I actually purchased a ginger ale and cookie to sustain me on the drive up to Carneros (I find comfort food a welcome deviation when the Ginkgo Girl is out of sorts).
I used to drive to Napa via the East Bay quite a bit in the 1980s, so I could look in on the grandmother of a friend who had returned to the East Coast for graduate studies. Since her passing, I’ve tended to head over the Golden Gate Bridge and cross over from Sonoma, which seems less industrial and CHP-prone. No matter what, I made the trek in ample time to arrive midway through the inauguration of Cuvaison’s green tasting room at its Carneros Estate Vineyard.
This new facility was designed by San Francisco architect Douglas Thornley, this pristine structure, along with its companion office space, is again decidedly minimalist in its approach and features a wide array of energy saving technologies, including denim insulation. The design of the tasting room takes maximum advantage of its elevated perch looking out onto the Carneros Valley. It is a vista few wineries can rival.
Cuvaison Estate Wines is a certified Napa Green Winery, both here and at its Calistoga facility, with 1,428 solar panels that generate up to 252kW at the Carneros winery. Its environmental practices focus on Winery Water Conservation and Quality, Soil Management, Solid Waste Reduction and Management, Energy Efficiency and, of courseWine Quality. With ample helpings of dim sum (what? no potato plastic utensils?) provided by San Francisco’s Yank Sing, I managed to sample five of their current releases. Greeters poured each guest the 2008 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir as they signed in—given the heat of the afternoon, this splendid Rosé almost seemed a necessity. I followed this introduction with a taste of their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, an unpretentious expression of this varietal that had extracted any hint of grassiness. The 2007 Chardonnay Carneros was clean and straight-forward. Similarly, Cuvaison’s 2007 Pinot Noir Carneros and 2007 Syrah Carneros seemed to straddle a mid-point between food-focused wine and the kind of vintage one tends to quaff simply for its inherent pleasure. I told winemaker Steve Rogstad I found these wines “restrained” in their presentation and structure; he seemed immensely pleased.
The views beyond Cuvaison’s terrace, as well as those alongside it, made it hard to pry myself away from these festivities, but I was obliged to trek onward to the quiet Sonoma hamlet of Sebastopol in order to inspect the new operations of Pizza Vino 707. Owner and fellow Hotchkiss survivor Stephen Singer is perhaps best known for developing the wine program at Chez Panisse; ironically, the Eurocentricity of this program amid Chez Panisse’s pioneering S.O.L.E. (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) food commitment provided my impetus for developing Sostevinobile. Stephen produces a remarkably restrained Syrah under his own Baker Lane label, also in Sebastopol. The ostensible purpose of my visit was to taste the Baker Lane Pinot Noir, but the restaurant has yet to stock these wines or the other local vintages they plan to feature, so I held my visit to exchanging a few pleasantries before returning to San Francisco.
On my way home, however, I became sidetracked by the festivities at Sebastopol’s 75-year-old Enmanji Buddhist Temple. Obon Oduri can best be described as Zen line dancing (thankfully without the cloying strains of Billy Ray Cyrus’ Achy Breaky Heart). I couldn’t help but sit along the sidelines and spectate as the ring of kimono-clad women and men in varying degrees of Western attire traipsed around the makeshift platform, waving lotus-shaped fans as they sauntered by.
Zen is, of course, the Japanese expression of Buddhism spiritually akin to the tenets of the sustainability movement, but is frequently coöpted by alternative practitioners here in the western United States. I could not help but marvel at the seeming anomaly of Asian congregants at Enmanji—an oxymoron to those who have ever attended zazen at the Green Gulch zendo in Muir Beach. Nonetheless, to a casual observer, Enmanji seems little different than any other mainstream American parish, with its temple, Sunday school classes, ample parking lot, and combined meeting hall/gymnasium.
Several years ago, I worked up a comedy routine about being the only white student at a Buddhist parochial school, St. Siddhartha’s, where I starred on the senior high basketball squad, the Flaming Monks. Towering above the rest of my classmates at a lofty 5’7″, I was Russell, I was Chamberlain, I was Kareem! (Many years later, I found myself having similar fantasies as I gazed upon a roomful of the tops of heads as I mingled among the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association, but this remains fodder for a later blog entry).
In all seriousness, the celebration at Enmanji was a delightful event I felt privileged to have a chance to witness it. Happy to find so many kindred spirits in this remote sector of Sonoma County, I treated myself to an oversized cupcake and commemorative fan before heading back to San Francisco. Along the way, I stopped in Mill Valley to fill my car up with gas and myself with a well-deserved shot of grappa at Piazza D’Angelo before heading across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Summer weather in San Francisco can be remarkably fickle. After a gloriously warm day on Saturday, I envisioned rising Sunday morning and cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge for some much-needed solar rejuvenation on the sands of Muir Beach. With a pristine tan invigorating every square centimeter of my dermis, I then planned to ride into Cow Hollow and join

my fellow Dartmouth alums in greeting the Big Green Bus at the San Francisco stop along its nationwide tour. A dense fog and high winds, however, curtailed my trek as I rode through the Presidio; with pale complexion and only minimal expenditure of energy, I rolled downhill and joined the gathering at Perry’s on Union Street.
The tonic of my (would-be) athleticism was countered by the sobering revelation of discovering several offspring of my coevals, now undergraduates at the College, in attendance. Still, we managed to bond as contemporaries in our common zeal for sustainability. Since 2005, 15 students have dedicated themselves each summer to manning a 1989 MCI coach modified to run on reclaimed biodiesel fuel and crisscrossing the continent in this working laboratory for alternative energy and sustainable living practices. With solar panels , deep cycle batteries, a 4000-watt Xantrex XW series inverter, bamboo flooring from EcoTimber and computer cases forged from recycled PET plastic bottles, it is commendable endeavor.
Amid the festivities and comradery, I offered to treat one of the young volunteers to a glass of wine. She ordered a Malbec from (shudder!) Argentina. Oh well! Perhaps in 2010, Sostevinobile will be able to host this annual gathering and share our insights into sustainable viticultural practices with these laudable trailblazers from the Big Green!