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Mendocino County Today: Wednesday, Apr 8, 2015

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THE MONDAY-TUESDAY RAIN amounted to about an inch for most places in the County, a little less than an inch on the Mendocino Coast. So far this week in the totally happening Anderson Valley, Mendocino County's coolest venue, there has been 1.15 inches of rain (and counting), bringing our total for the year to 34.75 inches. Last year at this time we'd recorded a mere 22.35 inches.

NO SOONER had we celebrated our miraculous inch, than we got maybe another half inch of rain. Put the Anderson Valley down for about 1.6.

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PERSONNEL DEPARTMENT: Long-time Ukiah attorney, Kit Elliot, is going to work for the County Counsel's Office.

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JERRY PHILBRICK, the good news. The popular Comptche logger is not only at home, he's back at work after a twenty-day medical ordeal that began when he had to be choppered outtahere when he was immobilized with breathing difficulties. Those difficulties turned out to be pneumonia, which carries off lots of us seniors if we just keep on walking around with it. Wife Terri tells us that when Jerry landed at the hospital his heart suddenly came to a halt, as in cardiac arrest, hence the assumption by many of his friends that Jerry had suffered a heart attack. And we're talking a very big heart in a guy who has donated incalculable amounts of time, labor and money to youth sports in this county. But when a heart of any size stops it is, as they say, a matter of grave concern. But fortunately for him, Jerry's heart stopped as he was surrounded by people who could get it started back up. All-in-all, though, the guy had a very close call, and all of us are hugely relieved he's up and at 'em again.

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WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME the Santa Rosa Press Democrat said something even mildly critical of the wine industry? It’s been so long that we here can’t remember any examples at all. That’s why we were surprised to read in Tuesday’s PD: “[John] Williams believes that the best wines are made from vines with deep roots and that by irrigating as routinely as they do, the majority of Napa growers are feeding the vine a drug (water) — and there is no methadone solution.”

JOHN WILLIAMS is the owner of an organic vineyard in Rutherford (Napa Valley) called “Frog’s Leap” and the quote from Mr. Williams is in an article by freelance wine writer Dan Berger who, unsurprisingly, is not a Press Democrat staffer. Mr. Berger is a long time wine writer for the LA Times and Associated Press, which may explain why his prose is more lively and unconventional than the usual tributes to usual grape growers we routinely see in the PD.

LONG-TIME AVA READERS may recall some of our somewhat similar comments about so-called water conservation and drip irrigation which frequently isn’t conservation at all (which we’ll conveniently summarize for you):

AS YOU PROBABLY NOTICED, most of the newer vineyards going in these days are what can be called “wall-to-wall” vineyards. Every plantable patch of vineyard dirt has vines on it. Sometimes the vines are even on the vineyard’s boundary fence. Older vineyards, both in the US and in Europe were almost all dry farmed. They were not planted in the new industrial style which uses very narrow rows between the vines planted on every possible acre. Many of the old vineyards are still dry farmed without any irrigation because, as vines naturally mature, they develop long taproots down more than ten feet to take their water from deeper in the ground as they need it. But, of course, that approach will only sustain so many vines per acre. If you jam your vines into every nook and cranny of your vineyard acreage to maximize your yield the vines will compete for available underground water and none will get enough.

SOLUTION: Drip irrigation.

A UC Davis viticulture and enology professor named Larry Williams [no relation to John quoted above] changed the face of viticulture in recent years and his ideas have been widely accepted. Williams recommends that drip irrigation be used not to conserve water but to maximize yield and control the growth of the vines with artificial injections of chemical-laced water. “If you're a grape grower, you want to have that vine dependent on what you do so you can manipulate them,” Larry Williams says. “Since the vine is getting most of its water from the drip system, then a grape grower has greater control on how much water the vine gets.”

Larry Williams' recommendations have become standard industry practice in recently planted large vineyards making the new grapevines very dependent on the drip. And if you’re thinking that it sounds like the vines are in an intensive care unit, you’re not far off.

Using Larry Williams' drip-intensive method, shallow-rooted “riparian rootstock” is planted very densely with roots that have been specially developed and selected to be shallow, not deep taproots like old-style vines. With shallow roots, vineyard managers can plant lots more grapevines per acre because the high-density vines in industrial vineyards don't need taproots — they are watered with pond water and the ripening process can be carefully manipulated and ripened with the amount of water and chemicals applied. Vineyard managers can also apply special growth accelerators, as well as pesticides and insecticides via the pond-water dripped on the vines.

In Europe, where most grapes have been dry-farmed on their old vineyards, 450-500 vines per acre are common. Some people think these gracious old-style vineyards are romantic and quaint. But in the last few years the production of wine is about as romantic as the production of a bottle of Coca Cola.

Under the Larry Williams (and UC-Extension Service) method of high-density, water-intensive planting, artificial watering and chemicalization, grape growers can cram up to 2500 vines onto an acre, producing much greater tonnages of grapes per acre and paying off their expensive vineyard development loans sooner.

Shallow riparian rootstock is also known to be much more vulnerable to disease such as phylloxera because shallow-rooted vines are right at the depth where the deadly nematode likes them. This, in turn requires more pesticide.

The huge new vineyard ponds that have cropped up all over the County — which taken together capture more creek and river water than a large dam would — are an essential element of the wall-to-wall grape plantings in the recently developed industrial vineyards. In fact, these new vineyards are designed not to conserve water but to require much more water — water that has become scarce everywhere on the Northcoast.

Further, if you can produce wine grapes with pond water like you can keep an ICU patient alive with a drip, you can plant more grapes, on steeper slopes, and in areas with dryer climates, demanding even greater amounts of water to keep them growing and the revenues flowing.

In fact, drip irrigation, once thought of as a form of water conservation, has become the opposite — a cheap way to use cheap water to produce more grapes and make more money.

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THE ABOVE is a summary of what we’ve written before, which, until yesterday’s PD, you’d never read even a little about in the PD.


“The entire [Napa] valley was dry-farmed for 100 years until 1976, when the first drip irrigation systems were installed,” John Williams said. “When the vines have easy access to water, they do not have to push their roots down very far. … Look, vines aren’t stupid. If water is easily available, they won’t have deep roots.” John Williams insists that wine quality is related to root depth, and the lower the roots are, the more likely the vine is to produce better quality at earlier dates.

“DRY FARMING is not just ‘not irrigating,’ it is a real skill,” says Williams. “And an arduous process and it’s very complicated.”

JOHN WILLIAMS may be engaging in a bit of self-promotion. Most of the old Italians on the north coast dry farmed (as he notes most of Napa Valley did until 1976). Do you think those old Italians rubbed elbows with master sommeliers? Did they call themselves “viticulturists”? Did they hold their gleaming glasses to the sun and swirl their Blood of Michoacan to get the full bouquet? Did they consult with Glen McGourty and his fellow industry-flaks at the UC Extension Service office before they planted a grapevine? Did they paw through the late UC Davis professor Maynard Amerine’s seminal wine book — “Hilgardia” — before they decided what and where to plant?

NO, OF COURSE NOT. So dry-farming can’t be that “complicated” — although it’s probably more work than turning on the spigot.

BUT, that doesn’t take anything away from John Williams' sharp remarks about drip irrigation. “Once a vineyard is established with an irrigation system,” John Williams said, “it’s hard to wean the plants off the drug. You can’t just turn the water off.”

(THAT’S PARTLY BECAUSE, as noted above, the newer rootstocks are designer-engineered to be more water dependent.)

JOHN WILLIAMS ADDED that the Napa Valley’s water use, just for irrigation alone (not counting frost protection), which John Williams estimates is at least a billion gallons annually, comes from a quick calculation John Williams made from a UC Davis report that estimates water needs for an acre of grapes — about 100 gallons of water per vine per year.

MULTIPLY THAT by, say, 2500 vines per acre, and you’re up to around 250,000 gallons per acre per year. So that even your little 10 acre-vineyard would take 2.5 million gallons a year — not counting frost protection or bottling (also a very water-intensive process).

IN THESE DAYS OF NEAR-PERMANENT DROUGHT, local grape growers could benefit greatly from John Williams — and our, ahem — advice about dry-farming, weaning their vineyards off the drip season by season — if it doesn’t get too dry too fast. But as long as local grape growers are themselves on a form of intellectual drip-irrigation from Glen McGourty and his pals at the UC-Extension Service wine braintrust, they’ll keep on with copious amounts of water and pesticides and noise as usual — never mind, even, their own long-term prospects.

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CALIFORNIA doesn’t seem to get it.

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PETROLIA-2009 — I hate surprise parties, and now the scientific evidence is in. Surprise parties can kill. To put the matter in scientific terms: emotional stress can precipitate severe, reversible left ventricular dysfunction in patients without coronary disease. Exaggerated sympathetic stimulation is probably central to the cause of the syndrome. Or, in the words of the press release from John Hopkins: "Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered that sudden emotional stress can also result in severe but reversible heart muscle weakness that mimics a classic heart attack. Patients with this condition, called stress cardiomyopathy but known colloquially as 'broken heart' syndrome, are often misdiagnosed with a massive heart attack when, indeed, they have suffered from a days-long surge in adrenaline (epinephrine) and other stress hormones that temporarily 'stun' the heart. The research team found that some people may respond to sudden, overwhelming emotional stress by releasing large amounts of catecholamines (notably adrenaline and noradrenaline, also called epinephrine and norepinephrine) into the bloodstream, along with their breakdown products and small proteins produced by an excited nervous system. These chemicals can be temporarily toxic to the heart, effectively stunning the muscle and producing symptoms similar to a typical heart attack, including chest pain, fluid in the lungs, shortness of breath and heart failure."

Of course, many rituals in our society have a furtive homicidal intent, most notably those fraught sessions known as family reunions. Grandpa and grandma drive to the event, get mildly looped, head for home and are wiped out on the Interstate by a semi when grandpa pulls out of the rest stop. Father keels over when he opens the front door to see a plump faced man vaguely resembling the daughter who left home all those years ago saying in a throaty voice, "Hi dad."

So please, no surprises.

— Alexander Cockburn

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To whom it may concern,

I am writing in regards to the ongoing Mendocino water board’s [the Community Services District Board in the Town of Mendocino —] imposing water control over wells in Mendocino. I am the President of Crown Hall in Mendocino and I have deep ties to the community. I am very aware that water is a precious commodity, as most locals are. We have no objection with a meter on our well if we were in a Stage 4 Drought, but we are not. And when the water board submitted all of these applications to sign over deeded access to our wells, they did this under false pretense. They do not supply water to anyone. I received a letter from Steve Gomes who is fighting their tactics. His phone number is written at the bottom of the letter—he has a lot of facts and information regarding this issue. I think it is important to educate as many people as possible about this—many people submitted the forms not knowing that they had a choice, and then if they didn't they were fined. Crown Hall has received a fine of $24k for not complying. Many paid their fines and complied because they were basically coerced and bullied. I have not. There are a few hold outs— they feel that there is a better way to go about this, and Steve Gomes has one, but the board will not listen to his suggestions. There was a meeting last night, and they [the Board members] were guided not to answer or comment by their lawyer, Jim Jackson. I believe this subject would interest you and your readers.

If you have any questions or would like to see any literature sent by the water board to me, I would happily share them with you.


Kevin Silva 937-0907 or 357-5314

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Don't want to be a fat man

People would think that I was just good fun

Would rather be a thin man

I am so glad to go on being one


Too much to carry around with you

No chance of finding a woman who

Will love you in the morning

And all the night time too


Don't want to be a fat man

Have not the patience to ignore all that

Hate to admit to myself half of my problems

Came from being fat


Won't waste my time feeling sorry for him

I seen the other side to being thin

Roll us both down a mountain

And I'm sure the fat man would win

— Ian Anderson

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CATCH OF THE DAY, April 7, 2015

Campbell-Crump, Canastuj-Garcia, Fierro, Knight
Campbell-Crump, Canastuj-Garcia, Fierro, Knight

KENDRA CAMPBELL-CRUMP, Laytonville. Harboring a wanted felon.

CALIXTO CANASTUJ-GARCIA, Sacramento/Ukiah. Pot cultivation.

ANA FIERRO, Willits. Probation revocation.

CRYSTAL KNIGHT, Hopland. Petty theft, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of controlled substance, suspended license, probation revocation.

Koehler, Manuel, Monahan, Vantreese
Koehler, Manuel, Monahan, Vantreese

SARAH KOEHLER, Fort Bragg. DUI-Drugs.

LAMAR MANUEL, Ukiah. Failure to register, parole violation.

MARC MONAHAN, Fort Bragg. Suspended license, probation revocation.

WILLIAM VANTREESE, Ukiah. Trespassing, loitering/prowling.

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BERNIE MADOFF is proof of the old rule: the more elegant the tailoring, the more handsomely silvered the distinguished locks, the more innocently rubicund the visage, the more likely the hand covertly fishing for one's wallet.

— Alexander Cockburn, 2009

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FROM SAM HARRIS'S INTERVIEW WITH JOHANN HARI, author of ‘Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’:

In 1939 Billie Holiday first sang “Strange Fruit,” the famous anti-lynching song. That night the Federal Bureau of Narcotics told her to stop singing the song, because according to [Harry] Anslinger, it represented everything that was wrong with America...

But a fascinating thing about the jazz world is that it had an extremely high degree of solidarity, and no one would snitch. The one exception was Billie Holiday’s scumbag pimp husband, who did, in fact, inform on her to Anslinger.

The Bureau gives this order to Holiday to stop singing her anti-lynching song. She had grown up in Baltimore when it was a segregated city, and she had promised herself as a little girl that she would never bow her head to any white man. So she said, in effect, “Fuck you. I’m an American citizen and I’m going to sing my song.”

That’s the point at which Anslinger resolved to break her. He hated employing African Americans, but you couldn’t really send a white guy into Harlem to stalk Billie Holiday. So he employed this African American agent named Jimmy Fletcher.

Fletcher followed her around for two years, and Holiday was so amazing that Fletcher fell in love with her. For the rest of his life he was ashamed of what he did. He busted her, and she was put on trial. She said, “The trial was called ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday,’ and that’s how it felt.” And she went to prison.

But the cruelest thing is what happened next. She got out, and there was hardly anywhere she could sing anymore, because you needed a license to perform anywhere where alcohol was served. Her friend Yolande Bavan said to me, “How do you best act cruelly? … It’s to take something that’s the dearest thing to that person away from them.” That’s what we do to addicts in Britain and America every day — we give them criminal records that cut them off from any access to the legal workforce.

Billie Holiday relapsed on heroin and alcohol and fell back into a very bad addiction problem. In her early 40s she finally collapsed and was taken to the hospital.

She was convinced that Anslinger’s men were going to come for her in the hospital, and she was right. She said to one of her friends, “They’re going to kill me in there. Don’t let them. They’re going to kill me.”

I spoke to the last surviving person who had been in the room with her. Holiday was handcuffed to the bed. The police knew she had liver cancer by this point, but they handcuffed her to the bed and didn’t let her friends in to see her. They took away her record player, her candies, and everything else. One of her friends managed to insist that she be given methadone because she had gone into heroin withdrawal—which is very dangerous when you’re as weak as she was. Once on the methadone, she started to recover—but then they cut off the methadone and she died.

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Do you have a mobile phone, tablet, e-reader, or other handheld device that you wish you knew more about? Come to our support group and we will learn together about email, texting, downloading books and movies, and more! All ages and skill levels are invited! Share what you know and learn from others. This event will be held Fridays from 1-2 at the Willits Library, starting April 24th.

Jill Dorman, Mendocino County Library, Willits Branch


  1. Eric Sunswheat April 8, 2015

    AVA writes: “Sometimes the vines are even on the vineyard’s boundary fence.”

    RESPONSE: Please back off on this criticism of food growing along boundary fences, a sometimes functional and necessary ‘commons’.

    Remember many old time stewards and farmer salts of the land, planted scattered roadside fence rows of grapes, cherry plums, even extensive native black walnuts wherever possible, while birds and rodents spread cane berries, all much to later delight of weary or adventurous travelers, and the less bountifully situated community neighborhood.

    Who scoffs at the notion of small tiny seeded purple wine grapes as food?

    Ha, one of the best tasting sensations nearly impossible to duplicate, is freezing these grapes whole, then popping them with delightful crunch in the mouth before thawing, releasing that potent anti-oxidant from inside the seed, which is a factor of many times more bio anti-oxidant nutrient concentration than the vitamin C in the flesh of the grape.

  2. Lazarus April 8, 2015

    I wonder what percentage of Mendo water goes to intoxicants…the marijuana and the wine. No matter, they will likely be the last to go anyway.

  3. Trelanie Hill April 8, 2015

    Ava wrote:
    MULTIPLY THAT by, say, 2500 vines per acre, and you’re up to around 250,000 gallons per acre per year. So that even your little 10 acre-vineyard would take 2.5 million gallons a year — not counting frost protection or bottling (also a very water-intensive process).
    THE MONDAY-TUESDAY RAIN amounted to about an inch for most places in the County, a little less than an inch on the Mendocino Coast. So far this week in the totally happening Anderson Valley, Mendocino County’s coolest venue, there has been 1.15 inches of rain (and counting), bringing our total for the year to 34.75 inches.

    It looks like the vineyards have had almost 3 acre feet fall on their land from the skies.
    and yet they only need about about 8 inches of that to water to irrigate.

    Almost 900,000 gallons per acre fell, and they’ll use only about 250,000 gallons of it per acre to irrigate.

    One acre foot equals 43,560 cubic feet or 435.6 hundred cubic feet and is equivalent to 326,700 gallons. Just imagine one acre foot of land covered by one foot deep in water.

    That little 10 acre vineyard example only used the rain produced by 3 of its acres!

    Okay, AVA tell us how that is excessive!

    Only my opinion
    Jim Hill
    Potter Valley

  4. Bill Pilgrim April 8, 2015

    Let’s just face the reality that viticulture has morphed into just another form of industrialized agriculture, with all the environmental consequences that implies – soil degradation, water depletion and pollution, chemical intoxication, etc. It’s rapacious extraction that in no way harmonizes with any ecological cycles. Land and water are just commodified platforms for creating a retail product.
    The financial sector also plays a role in this destructive business, for many of the larger vineyards are likely leveraged to the extreme, so every square foot of land must be throttled for every dollar it might earn. The loans must be serviced and a profit margin maintained.
    Wake up Mendo! The juggernaut of bulldozers has no pride or respect of place. People in other counties are beginning to fight back.

  5. Harvey Reading April 8, 2015

    “CALIFORNIA doesn’t seem to get it.”

    No, including the writer. All about urban water use cutbacks, when the water hogs and wastrels are welfare agribusinesses, the scum who get the vast majority of the water (over 80 percent according to current (lying in my opinion) figures, probably still at 95 percent, as reported until about the mid 90s, when the Department of Water Resources had at least limited credibility). They’re the people who provide us with fruit and vegetables that have no taste since they’re picked before they’re ripe.

  6. Mark Scaramella April 8, 2015

    HERE’S ANOTHER MATH RIDDLE: A Horse’s Nostril can hold 2,852 fleas and each horse has two nostrils. If the outside temperature is below 35 degrees F and the horse doesn’t sneeze, how many pieces of standard sized toilet paper would be needed to transfer the fleas from one of the nostrils from each of five horses into a single grape husk? And what would you do with the excess?

    • Bill Pilgrim April 8, 2015

      Answer: the volume of one harvest bin divided by pi, with the excess being used to muffler the engine of a vineyard fan.

    • Randy Burke April 8, 2015

      You can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish

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