Growers in the Lodi area and in Solano County continue to assess potential damage resulting from an unprecedented pesticide drift incident that occurred in late May when a mixture of pesticides were sprayed in an attempt to eliminate weeds on Bouldin Island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Amid reports that the drift caused damage in vineyards 35 miles or more, apart, thousands of acres of grapes could potentially be affected from the aerial spraying, but growers are evaluating the situation. They’re trying to determine if they’ve been affected, what the effects are, and where to go from there.
While vine growth is an issue, the big question is whether residue from these pesticides – even in minute amounts - will show up in grapes. That’s because the pesticides are not approved for use in grapes: any wine produced from contaminated grapes would be unfit for sale. The pesticides at issue also don’t have maximum limits established for export countries, so residue in grapes would mean any wines made with them could not be shipped globally.
Acting San Joaquin County agriculture commissioner Gary Caseri said his department is investigating, coordinating with the department of pesticide regulation, and hopes to issue a report sometime in July. “We want to find out the full extent and reach of what happened,” Caseri said.
The incident occurred after Wilbur-Ellis, an international distributor of agricultural products, animal feed and specialty chemicals, recommended an application of chemicals, reportedly for Delta Wetlands Properties, a private water investment company that owns Bouldin Island. The chemicals were applied in an effort to eliminate vegetation so the island could be flooded.
Sandra Gharib, a spokeswoman for Wilbur-Ellis, said via email that the company was engaged by the Semitropic Water Storage District to eradicate vegetation from Bouldin Island.
In response to our customer’s request, we recommended two herbicides (Roundup Custom and Polaris SP), a surfactant, a modified seed oil, and a drift control agent. Polaris SP was included in the mix because it is effective against the type of vegetation found on the island.
Wilbur-Ellis sold the products to the grower, and the application was performed in May by an aerial applicator hired by the grower; Wilbur-Ellis was not involved in the application and does not have any information about it.”
Wilbur-Ellis supplied product to the grower but we were not involved in the application. We don’t have many facts from the grower on the application, and we are not in a position to know what mistakes may have been made during the application.
The matter is still under investigation by the San Joaquin County Ag Commissioner, and Wilbur-Ellis has undertaken its own investigation, but neither the County nor Wilbur-Ellis have reached any conclusions so we are not yet in a position to comment on what further actions we may take.
A June 10 letter issued by the company provides the following information:
We wanted to provide you with the information we have on the recent drift issues in the area around Lodi, California. We know many of you are concerned about the effects on your crops and while we don’t have all the facts yet, here is what we do know.
On May 7, 2014, Wilbur-Ellis recommended an application of Roundup Custom, Polaris SP, In-Place, Cayuse, and Hasten to non-crop areas in San Joaquin and Contra Costa Counties. The producers were applied during the period May 16-20 (edited via hand to read May 15-28) by a third party applicator engaged by the owner of the target filed. We understand that some of these chemicals may have drifted east and north of the target fields, onto crops for which they may not be labeled.
The County is leading the investigation of this incident. In an attempt to determine what crops have been affected and what damage has been done, Wilbur-Ellis is conducting its own investigation. Although some effects have been identified, we do not yet know what real damage has occurred and it may take some time for this data to emerge. Any grower who believes their crops have been affected should report the damage to the County Ag Commissioner’s office, so that responses can be coordinated.
If we determine that Wilbur Ellis has made any mistakes, we will correct them; Wilbur-Ellis stands behind its actions. Even if this does not prove to be the case, we are cooperating with our customers and other third parties to determine how best to proceed and we will try to update you as events warrant.
“This is a bigger problem than people realize,” Bronco Wine Company chief executive Fred Franzia said. “It could be potentially devastating in the Lodi area. People can tell you, 'Fred has an axe to grind because he’s got inventory,' but I don’t think people are realizing the ramifications of this thing.”
Early Reports of Damage, Residue in Vineyards
Damage varies considerably, according to one Lodi-based vineyard manager, but at the moment is affecting the external leaves and shoot tips in the canopy. Some growers think that at current damage levels, there should not be much of a quality impact. Other growers have already conducted testing with third-party labs, with samples turning up traces of Imazapyr and Glyphosate.
At least one Lodi-based crop consultant is seeing newer shoot growth now pushing secondary leaves, which is abnormal for this time of year.
The consultant says the damage is extensive and that he’s advising all accounts experiencing symptoms to file loss of crop claim forms with the county and to seek legal counsel to plan for the worst case scenario while hoping for a positive outcome. He says secondary leaf growth in the vineyards may translate to potentially less fruitfulness next year or could delay maturity this year, but that it’s a huge unknown, though there are reports that Polaris may cycle out of plants in 60 days.
A senior vineyard manager with a large California wine company active in Lodi said he isn’t sure the incident will ultimately have long term implications, except in newly planted vineyards. “The information that is starting to filter back is that while it’s stunted in some vineyards, particularly young vineyards, established vineyards are not showing any Polaris residues, there may be some Glyphosate (roundup) residue, but that could be from a number of sources,” he said. “My opinion is this will come and go. What is going to happen is interested wineries will form an analytical group to sample and evaluate fruit between now and harvest looking for residues. They will be proactive. That in combination with the work Wilbur-Ellis is doing, should, provide pretty good direction prior to harvest."
“We know that there is damage,” Rachel Ashly, vice president for grape resources with Treasury Wine Estates said. “We don’t own any vineyards in the region but are working with our growers to monitor this.”
“Most growers don’t want to look for it, they want to pretend it’s not on their vineyards,” Franzia said. “We’re going to look at every vineyard to make sure we’ve got grapes that aren’t contaminated.”
Hoping This Doesn’t Get Blown Out of Proportion
Typical was a comment from Lodi Winegrape Commission Executive Director Cameron King, who said, “The region is really concerned about not raising or elevating the story.”
“The individual growers are trying to keep this a little under wraps, and rightfully so, until we know something,” Steve Dorfman, a partner with the Ciatti Company, a brokerage firm for bulk wine and grapes, said. “Nobody is really aware what the overall impacts will be because this is not a product that was ever used on grapevines.”
While there was a recent incident in Oregon, nobody contacted for this report could recall a drift situation of this size affecting California vineyards.
Dorfman pointed out that incidents such as this can often get blown out of proportion – and that perception can become reality. He recalled the situation that occurred in 1989 after 60 Minutes reported on Alar, a coating that was used on some apples. The apple industry was decimated.
Similarly, a television report that aired in Sweden last December (link to replay with English subtitles) sensationalized the issue of "chemical residues" in wine. Sales of the largest wine brands mentioned in that report are still recovering.
“Perception is reality and we have to be very careful what comes of this until we know,” Dorfman said.
We received this report and the photos from Alex Gambal, a wine producer we know in Beaune. He sent us the following about the hail damage that occurred in Burgundy on June 28.
1. As usual vines planted north/south fared far better than east/west; i.e. the south facing side were in some cases shredded.
2. It could have been worse although Pommard to the north and Beaune to the south we especially hard hit. As much as 50-80% again.
3. A grower in Volnay told me yesterday that his 1er Cru Taillepieds, Carelle etc were in the 20-25% loss range.
4. Our Bourgogne Pinot, Les Petits Pres and Long Bois at the base of Volnay were hit hard again; at least 50% to as much as 70%. Across the road and a bit farther in the plain we fared ok.
5. The whites on the north side of Meursault were hurt but I do not have firm numbers. As you move south there was damage but it was less and less as you moved south.
6. Our various Pulignys, Batard and Chassagnes were hit but the damage was limited to the south side of the rows and maxi 10% damage.
7. The Cote de Nuits was also hit and heard on Sunday in the 15-20% range from Vosne, Echezeaux, RSV, Cl,os Vougeot, Musigny, some Chambolle with the storm ending at Morey. From Morey north there was nothing.
8. Photos taken ~ 16:50-17:20 28/6/2014 in Meursault.
A wild fire in Napa County that started today at noon has burned 600 acres and led to mandatory evacuations in the Pope Valley.
Kerana Todorov (@NVRkerana) tweeted: #BerryessaEstates are being evacuated because of Butts Canyon fire.
Below is a photo of the fire taken from Charles Krug winery.
See more here.
Wine Business Monthly's July 2014 digital edition is now available.
Inside July 2014 you will find:
Using Technology to Tell Your Story
The Case for Organic Grape Growing
Checklist: Preparing a Lab for Harvest
Brandon Sywassink of Manna Ranch in Lodi posted a couple of harvest photos today. "Pretty sure I can say that #mannaranch has picked the first load of grapes in #lodi for the 2014 season," he wrote on Instagram. Sywassink said they are harvesting the grapes for a customer who wants sour juice. The grapes are green, but they aren't harvesting white grapes—that is a load of Petite Sirah!
Earlier this month, UC Davis Executive Education at the Graduate School of Management brought together more than 80 participants for the UC Davis Wine Packaging Strategy program. Participants at the program were asked to bring wine products that “spoke to them” through packaging. More than 40 products were entered in the contest, representing a huge cross-section of wines and packages.
The winners were chosen the old fashioned way, with each program attendee (participants and speakers alike) getting a vote.
Here are the winners:
Wine: The Collector’s Pinot Noir 2012 Sta. Rita Hills
Price Point: $110.00
The Collector’s Pinot Noir is a traditional Pinot from an estate vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills. It is presented in a hand-blown glass bottle with a hand-made paper label printed on a manual letterpress. The cork is sealed with estate-harvested bees wax. This package is art incarnate, and we’re told the wine inside is as lovely as the package.
A wine bottle blackboard…who would have guessed it possible! This lambrusco is not only a great tasting sparkling wine, but is also lets you decorate the bottle to suit any occasion! It even comes with the chalk and eraser already attached.
This bottle is not only more space efficient than standard round bottles, it looks totally cool! The elegantly etched square bottle begs for re-use and display, and is easy to find one a shelf full of other wine choices. Walk into a store and say, “Direct me to the square one, Sir!” There won’t be any confusion over which you’re looking to purchase.
According to legend, three wine merchants came to the town of Zell (in Germany) to buy wine. They narrowed their choice to three barrels, but they couldn’t agree on which was best. A black cat suddenly jumped on one of the barrels, arched its back and swiped its paw at anyone who tried to get close. They quickly chose the barrel so obstinately defended by the cat, thinking that it probably contained the best wine. If your bottle can tell a story, fantastic. And if it can appeal to the millions of kitty cat lovers in the wine aisle, even better! Another bottle that begs to be reused after the wine is long gone.
See the 8 Honorable Mentions here.
The Department of Viticulture and Enology at Washington State University has published the June 2014 Voice of the Vine. The feature article describes a bit of interdisciplinary viticulture and entomology research. In response to reports from organic grape growers, WSU viticulture and enology undergraduate Ashley Johnson and entomologists Laura Lavine and Doug Walsh surveyed the leafhopper populations in organic vineyards in Washington. The preliminary findings are that there are a lot more Virgina Creeper Leafhoppers than Western Grape Leafhoppers in WA vineyards. Since the Virginia Creeper Leafhopper is a vector for red blotch, this should concern WA growers.
Across the newsdesk this week from UC Davis:
Earlier this month, more than 80 people came together at UC Davis to participate in our inaugural Wine Packaging Strategy: Decide, Design, Impress program. Winemakers, marketers, brand managers, operations and financial executives rolled up their sleeves to collaborate around topics associated with wine packaging strategy.
Over the course of the day, participants discussed:
-How to use packaging to build an emotional connection with your audience
-How to use innovative package design to reach new markets
-Whether using qualitative or quantitative research makes a difference in packaging decisions
-Updates on the latest closure technology
-How to make sustainability a priority without “greenwashing” your product
Selected Recent Sales of Grapes & Wines in Bulk for June 23, 2014 courtesy of Turrentine Brokerage:
Zinfandel 2013 wine, Lodi, 12,000 gallons at $6.00 per gallon
Chardonnay 2013 wine, Lodi, 6,000 gallons at $5.00 per gallon
Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 wine, Lodi, 38,400 gallons at $6.75 per gallon
Chardonnay 2013 wine, Lodi, 6,400 gallons at $5.50 per gallon
Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 grapes, Sonoma Mountain, 15 tons at $2,800.00 per ton
Chardonnay 2014 grapes, Russian River, 35 tons at $2,000.00 per ton
Petite Sirah 2014 grapes, Napa Valley, 10 tons at $3,400.00 per ton
Madrigal Family Winery in Napa celebrated summer at an open house on their new deck on June 17. Chris Madrigal, third-generation winery president, welcomed other local winery owners and hospitality managers, while pouring his acclaimed Petite Sirah, Sonnet 63 and other favorite selections, all paired with his own lamb tacos.
Photos courtesy of Madrigal Family Winery
(L-R) Ryan Graham, key account specialist, American Wines; Chris Madrigal, president Madrigal
Family Winery; and Ed Maass, California regional sales manager, BCM Wineworks.