|Organic, Biodynamic and Sustainable Eco Wines, Part 5: The 'Fish Friendly Farming' Wine Certification|
|Tuesday, 15 October 2013 00:00 | Written by Tonya Kay | Blog Entry|
I would be remiss in discussing certified wines if I did not mention a most integral certification found regionally in northern California: Fish Friendly Farming® (FFF). The FFF certification offers another angle on sustainability, this time addressing land management of the farm as a whole. FFF is not so much concerned about the wine in the bottle, but the land the business is sitting on.
I grew up in a southern Michigan farm town with a grandfather who owns 130 acres of land. He’s planted mainly soy and corn, although in recent years he’s received government subsidies to not plant or been paid to replant native trees. My grandfather is a farmer, not a raw-vegan pioneer. He is a man who has a relationship with the land, not a set of visionary environmental ideals. And I know—because I am his granddaughter—that the burying of quartz crystal dust in cow horns of biodynamic protocol, which I value so much, would not hit the top of his hard-work farming priority list. But he watches the fish that lay eggs in his creeks, he notices erosion taking fields away, and he wants to live in accordance with nature—that with which he interacts daily—as much as he can. It is my opinion that the FFF is a farmer’s certification, based on the kind of land management that my grandfather would understand and value, and that I wish every vineyard and farm in northern California followed.
The FFF, drafted in 1999 in Santa Rosa, is available in the counties of Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa and Solano. Grape growers voluntarily enroll in the program’s workshops, where they learn about creating and sustaining environmental quality and habitat on private land. Attending the workshops is not a guarantee of certification; the farmer must complete a Farm Conservation Plan that includes an inventory of present land, resources and practices as well as an improvement proposal. The areas of focus are soil conservation, creek networks, water conservation, limited chemical use, restoring riparian corridors, new vineyard design and something called Beneficial Management Practices, which is specifically the protection and enhancement of salmon and trout habitat—the basis of the certification’s Fish Friendly Farming name.
Salmon and trout are indicator species, meaning they are very sensitive to human-induced environmental impacts—kinda like the canary with CO2. If water quality, temperature and aquatic food webs change, the salmonids’ population will decrease giving attentive humans an early notification of the overall health of the ecology. So it stands to reason, and I’m sure my grandfather would agree: Farming that keeps the salmon and trout in the rivers happy is farming that keeps everyone happy.
After the farmer has developed his/her conservation plan, the FFF staff present the plan to a team with representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the County Agricultural Commissioner for onsite review and timeline implementation. The farmer then takes responsibility to implement the plan, sometimes sharing major project expenses, but funding at least 75% directly. Extensive monitoring is done, including photo-documentation. Recertification is required in five to seven years to ensure the plan was implemented and to update it if needed. Following the FFF program ensures compliance with the federal Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act as well as state pesticide laws. Surely farmers can go further than these minimum standards in their self-directed practices, too.
Some recent FFF projects include the return of storm-scoured gravel from creeks, where it was causing flooding, back to feeder rivers where salmon rely on the gravel for natural habitat. Another recent project assisted Michel-Chlumberger Winery to reduce bank erosion by removing invasive, Pierce’s Disease host plants and re-vegetating the corridor with native plants. This culminated with the release of steelhead trout juveniles by Healdsburg Elementary School students. And finally, funded by the California State Water Resources Control Board, FFF worked with Navarro Vineyards to implement the demonstration of soil control on a vineyard road originally generating fine sediment runoff into nearby creeks. By out-sloping and installing rolling dips, this project disperses erosive flow. It is these seemingly simple things that the organic, biodynamic and sustainable certifications do not handle, yet truly do make a difference in the long-term land management of a vineyard and farm.
With that in mind, I savor even more the taste of my wine from Husch, Preston, Bonterra, Quintessa, Volker, Artesa, Sinskey and Phelps—just a few of the 70 certified vineyards constituting more than 100,000 acres enrolled in the FFF program.
Continue to Part 6: Vegan Wine
Fish Friendly Farming
Napa Valley Grapegrowers
Artesa Vineyards and Winery
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