Archive for January, 2008

Cheers to Biodynamic Wine

Friday, January 25th, 2008

quivira3.jpgLast week as we overnighted in the LEED Gold Gaia Hotel in American Valley, we thought that we should take advantage of what everyone else in the region does – wine tasting. But we figured to be a little different. We hit a few wineries of varying organic, green, sustainable qualities and found a few surprises. First, get it out your head to tie “sustainability” to traditional wine making. As Winemaker Steven Canter at Quivira mentions, “There’s nothing sustainable about bottling wine in a glass bottle, corking the bottle, then shipping it all over the country.”

We scooted into the Madonna Winery tasting room during a quite Sunday afternoon. Located in the Carneros Region of Napa Valley, this family produced wine believes in organic farming, without the use of synthetic chemicals and is a proud member of CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). But when we asked the two servers if they served organic wine it was as if we asked for a tasting of Miller Lite. One gave this look of confusion and the other got a little condescending. Apparently, they do not make organic wine. According to the servers, that whole organic wine issue deals with the adding of sulfites and they think that serious winemakers have to use sulfites. Everyone gets to do their own due diligence as far as organic this or that but don’t make us feel like idiots for bringing up the question. (more…)

Going LEED Gold at the Gaia hotel

Friday, January 18th, 2008

gaia-go.jpgWe had heard a lot about the LEED Gold Gaia hotel in American Canyon (even we had to look up American Canyon and we live in San Fran) but we hadn’t actually visited it. Yes, we can only tell so much from a press release. The hotel, rather unassuming, sits right off busy Highway 29 just a short hop to both Napa and Sonoma Valley but once in the lobby or the rooms it’s not easy to hear any of the traffic. But onto the Green stuff. When checking in, it’s hard not to notice the kiosks with “green touch screens” which display how much water, electricity savings and how much CO2 the hotel emits. The overhead Solatube Tubular skylights represented an even more impressive aspect. Even on the cloudy day, the lobby had no artificial lighting, but you wouldn’t know it but the amount of natural light.

We got one of the choice rooms overlooking the man made lagoon which plays home to koi, frogs, various plant life and Artemis and Apollo (two impressive swans that live in the lagoon and strut their way around most of the hotel). By the way, the koi pond uses recycled water from the site which they clean and filter prior to entering the pond.

The sparten yet comfortable rooms offer lots of Green aspects. Small things like offering fair trade, organic coffee and not having those tiny shampoo bottles littering the bathroom made a big difference. Here they provide shampoo, lotion in bulk dispensers. We also like that all restrooms use recycled tiles and granite. While in the bathroom, we give wet kudos to the water saving low flow showerhead, which offer plenty of water pressure for one person (but not two, if you catch our drift).

We slept easy not only with a comfy, firm mattress but breathing easy with the low VOC paints were used throughout the rooms and rest of the hotel. It also helped us to know that solar panels provide 12% of the hotel’s electricity.

We know that a boutique type hotel needs a relaxing but unsustainable hot tub (yes, we partook and didn’t feel guilty) but we didn’t feel too keen about the microwave that inhabited our room but even with the little monster we felt pretty energized about our stay. It sure beats a stay in an unsustainable Motel 6.

We could very well come all the way to wine country without visiting some organic, sustainable and do we dare say biodynamic wineries. Stay tuned.

OpenEco Energy Camp

Friday, January 11th, 2008

openeco2.jpgWhat do you get you when you put four experts in a San Francisco energy camp called OpenEco 2008? You get something between a bar brawl and poetry recital. Actually the opening segment for yesterday’s Sun Microsystems sponsored-UCSF based-camp began with Dave Douglas, VP of Eco Responsibility at Sun Microsystems leading a spirited discussion panel of L. Hunter Lovins (tough to miss in her black cowboy hat), president and founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions; Ted Nordhaus, Chairman of the Breakthrough Institute; Michael Shellenberger, President of the Breakthrough Institute; and Adam Werbach, Founder and CEO of Act Now.

Even when you get a panel of so-called experts, there tends to be disagreements. In fact, when asked about all the controversy among what to do about the energy crisis and sustainability and alt energy Adam Werbach blurted, “First thing that we need to do is to kill all the experts,” which got a laugh but also made a good point. Lovins showed some lovin’ for her case that innovation comes with healing. In her case, she argued that investing in sustainability rather than armies would work in places like Afghanistan where she’s off to teach, not how to shoot an M-16 but of course, sustainability. Like political pundits, the talk shifted to taxes (like a carbon tax) versus subsidies. We, like most of the crowd pondered the thought of adding a “carbon tax” to various products and services. But we all know how much this country loves its taxes. But then what about subsidies? It’s no shock that dirty energy like coal and oil look relatively cheap because of the subsidies. Green foodie Michael Pollen of Omnivore’s Dilemma fame, dedicated numerous book pages talking about corn and soy subsidies, and here the group and audience did the same. That subsidized corn ends up as high fructose corn syrup in so many cheap processed foods. We don’t see any spinach subsidies. Balance the energy scale. We think that it’s time for more Green energy subsidies (not just solar). People don’t want their dirty energy taxed so we need to make clean energy cheap. (more…)

Bay Area Solar Rebates

Friday, January 4th, 2008

sf solarNormally, we live for the present. We’re not about events, deals, and projects that will hopefully start sometime in the future. We’re not big fans of Chevrolet announcing that in three years they plan to unveil the electric powered car the Volt. That’s great; in three years one of us may plan to get married or buy Microsoft. Maybe we should announce that now. That being said, the neighboring Bay Area counties (San Francisco, Marin and Berkeley) recently concocted plans to offer rebates of up to $5,000 for installing solar panels if homeowners use a local contractor. Coupled with state and federal incentives, that could cut in half the $21,000 cost for an average household. Because San Francisco knows that it’s not just about solar, the City will also cover up to 90 percent of the costs of making apartment buildings more energy-efficient, and will pay residents $150 to replace old appliances.

Those crazy green radicals in neighboring Berkeley will finance the cost of solar panels for homeowners who agree to pay the money back through a 20-year property tax assessment. Nearby Marin County offers a $500 rebate to homeowners who install solar systems.

For those who think that these rebate ideas only reside on the West Coast should know that Baltimore offers at least $2,000 toward closing costs for people who buy new homes close to where they work. They call the program the “Live Near Your Work” program. Pretty crazy, huh?

As for San Francisco’s program, the loan part of the program would need to be approved by voters as a ballot initiative, while the refund part would need the support of the Board of Supervisors, San Francisco’s never shy for publicity city council. If this program succeeds then we’ll give them all the Green pub that they can handle.