Archive for the ‘Eco-Entreprenuers’ Category

DeLoach Biodynamic Wines (and Fresh Eggs)

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
Mixing Pot for Biodynamic Brew

Mixing Pot for Biodynamic Brew

Just down the road from Inman, we made our way in DeLoach, a far larger operation then any of the small vineyards that we visited. However, large doesn’t mean that they don’t have sustainability in mind. DeLoach garnered organic status in 2008 and has upped the ante to biodynamic since 2009.

Like a true biodynamic vineyard, they grow and raise other crops, which they either donate to local food banks or during harvest season they feed the entire harvest crew three times a week.  Nice to see their social justice spreads to their workers and the community.

We could feel a buzz around the many acres. Normally, bees and the biodynamic honey symbolize two reasons why this vineyard appears so alive. However, the bees took a sojourn during our visit but the chickens made up for it. They use chickens to fertilize, and we got lucky enough to sample the über fresh pastured eggs (no cages for these chickens), which made the most delish poached eggs.

While most people relaxed in the tasting room, we got excited to see their biomass tank which acts like a giant bug jug where dirty water passes through a massive membrane then the water gets transported and irrigated into the fields. The biomass system cost about $1.2 million saves thousands of gallons of water each year but it will take many years for that system to pay for itself. In other words, DeLoach took the cost to be part of their long-term vision. Maybe not the most cost effective vision but a more sustainable one, which gets high marks from us.

Speaking of marks, we did sample some of the wines in their private tasting room that contains cabinets made from old wine vats and denim jeans insulation. But we didn’t just sit in the tasting room staring at the inside  insulation. We sampled a slew of wines with some of our faves being the  2006 Porter Bass Vineyard (Chardonnay), Pinot Noir 2007 Maboroshi Vineyard, and a tasty Zinfandel 2007 Forgotten Vines (which we didn’t easily forget).

The sustainability here doesn’t just come from the biodynamic cow horns and membrane that get stirred up in the preparations and the fervent vortex but the fact that DeLoach aims to create community, support workers and donate to organizations for others who may not be as fortunate.

The fact that DeLoach subscribes to the People, Planet, Profit mantra gets our vortex excited to visit again soon to see what other greenings they have going on but to sip some wine (and get a few eggs as well.)

Inman Winery – Pinot, Green and an Old Barn

Friday, September 10th, 2010
Inman Pinot on Terrazzo Countertop

Inman Pinot on Terrazzo Countertop

When someone puts more emphasis on their practices and product rather than their marketing then that might cause one to ponder. Such was the case when we almost passed by Inman Family Wines on our sustainable wine journey. They basically have no signage and they certainly don’t have a big banner (like some other businesses) stating “We’re Green.” Instead owner Kathleen Inman speaks softly and carries a big green stick. In other words – Green deeds not words.

Although Kathleen’s Inman has been selling wine and receiving accolades for over 10 years, she only recently opened her tasting room in July. But like the rest of her operation she thinks about the big picture, as she took the effort to repurpose an old redwood barn into the tasting room and production facility. Although it would certainly qualify for LEED (maybe Gold) status she wisely decided to use the $60,000 or so that it would cost to get LEED certified on things that actually make a difference.

The tasting room utilizes wood from the barn as doors and panels, Nearly all of the steel used to make the primary frame of the building came from post consumer and post industrial recycled materials (old cars), the countertops are either made from Terrazzo (repurposed wine bottles), and the remaining countertops (not quite completed) will be from a composite concrete with high percentage of fly ash. The roof boasts a full array of solar panels (enough to power 98% of the winery), and we wondered around back to check out the water reclamation biomass system, which costs a few hundred grand and will save over 54,600 gallons of water per year with the ability to save even more.

We even liked the story of a local contractor who offered to pave a black tarmac over her decomposed granite parking lot but she told him that they prefer to minimize the heat-island effect. She didn’t really say that to him but we just embellished the story a bit.

Lot’s of people talk big when it comes to Green this and sustainable that but she puts her philosophy (and her bank account) in action. Her farming practices come as close to organic and biodynamic (although she has not received certification yet) and probably exceed most of the standards. We nibbled on the grapes right off the vine (don’t try that at a conventional farm) before even sampling her well respected 2008 Pinot Gris , 2008 Endless Crush Rose, and three Pinot Noirs all 2007 – the Thorn Ridge Ranch, the OGV Estate (Olivet Grange Vineyard, which is the organically farmed vineyard surrounding the winery) and the Russian River.

Most winemakers have wine running through their veins but Katherine Inman has big carafe of Green mixed in as well. She believes in making great wine but doing it the right way. We clink glasses to that philosophy. Cheers.

Small Vines Wines – High Denisty and Sustainable Wine Thinking

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010
Small Vines Wines vineyard

Small Vines Wines vineyard

We took a few days off to hit the wine country, no not Napa or Sonoma but rather the Russian River Valley. Keeping with our true nature, we explored and tasted our way through some of the more progressive thinking sustainable wineries in the region. We’ll start small and work our way up.

Small would mean Small Vines Wines. Like most others in the region vigneron Paul Sloan creates Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Small Vines grows on several small acre plots situated in Sebastopol and the vineyard that we visited takes up only about an acre but Sloan makes the most of his space. They use high density planting which seems to make sense but not many wineries use. Like high density Green building, doesn’t it seem logical to grow more grapes on less land? Why doesn’t everyone use this traditional technique used successfully for ages in Burgundy France? Because high density does not equal tractors, so mechanization doesn’t fit in the density style, thus the method (often like organic growing or biodynamic growing) remains labor intensive and more costly.

The high-density grapes need less compost because more nutrients can be found in the roots. More nutrients and less compost don’t just equal more sustainability but better wine quality as well. We sipped some pinot noir and chardonnay to be sure while Sloan mentioned how he views wine as a living entity and as an expression of place.

Unlike many wineries, we completely get how Sloan considers the whole picture when producing wines. Small Vines only produces a limited number of cases each year because if the operation gets too large Sloan said, “You lose your ability to be in tune with the whole system.” People often don’t understand or often abuse the term “sustainability” but considering the whole picture and caring about the Earth can’t be too far from what the meaning truly represents.

Photo by Valerie Summers

Keyed Up For West Coast Green

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

wcgreenimagesEven though West Coast Green remains just a shade over a month away, we’re still keyed up about the event. With the continuing housing storm and distressed housing situation, many people have not been considering sustainable aspects to real estate.

We’re sure that will change. It may take a few years to re-convince people that Green building and innovation are not just for the good real estate times. Green building should be a staple and not just a temporary fad.

As for the show, we can’t wait to see sustainable rock stars like Bill McDonough of Cradle-to-Cradle fame who will deliver a 3-hour presentation about the tradition of Buckminster Fuller. Also, on our must see list will be the Innovation Pipeline which creates an “Exploratorium-like” exhibit with smart products that always to seem to wow us.

Don’t think that we won’t be looking out for any “greenwashers” as some companies seem to only promote the hype but provide nothing sustainable in the tank.

Better Place CEO Shai Agassi Creates Buzz at Churchill Club

Monday, July 19th, 2010
Shai Agassi and Mark Johnson

Shai Agassi and Mark Johnson

Sometimes when walking into a room you can just feel the buzz and in this case the buzz came from the talk of electric cars and batteries by Better Place CEO Shai Agassi. We actually heard about this guy sometime ago with his vision to make zero emission vehicles a worldwide standard. Seeing Agassi in person at the Churchill Club event on July 15, moderated by Mark Johnson of Innosight, offered insight into Agassi’s thinking and business model of his company and infrastructure that will allow the electric car to move from back of the bus status into a major transportation option.

Americans simply don’t want to give up their $20,000 pollution emitting cars due to convenience. Americans don’t consider the $40 of black gold that they fork out each week to fill their tanks. Add that amount up versus the price of a rechargeable electric battery and the car expense seems less prohibitive. In terms of car expense, Agassi mentions that when the electric car is priced like a 3-year old gas car, then we will hit a tipping point. The cost to recharge batteries is based on “cheap electricity” like charging a battery in the middle of the night, so the costs are less. Even before the BP disaster, the cost to extract oil keeps rising and costs 20 times more to get than any other energy source.

Agassi made an interesting technology analogy where in the past we used snail mail, then moved to faxes, then to email and similarly we went from gas cars to hybrids and now we won’t move back to gas cars but forward to more technology driven electric cars. Agassi claims that each year batteries have improved eight percent so eventually we wont need (battery) switch stations.

Of course, the US and the moribund US automakers will take a wait and see attitude. Renault has put forth 15 percent of its R&D budget to work on the electric cars. The last company chief who put 15% of the R &D to a non-existing product was Steve Jobs (Ipod, Ipad). Agassi whose switch stations now dot Israel and Denmark said that the electric car versus the end of using oil would be a huge factor that determines the survival of the US dollar and US economy. If we can get crawl out form the oil wells and at least offer the same oil type incentives (subsidies) to people like Agassi and the electric car industry, then America and other counties will definitely find themselves in a Better Place.

Maker Faire Draws Sustainable, Inspiring Inventors and Artists

Monday, May 24th, 2010
Mousetrap at Makers Faire

Mousetrap at Maker Faire

Unbelievable but true but this past weekend marked the first time that we attended the Maker Faire. True, in terms of numbers, we only stand a few behind those Makers who’ve made it there since its inception. Our Green posse scurried from the ingenious to downright crazy exhibits. For us Maker virgins, Donna our unofficial group leader for the day, mentioned that people might place this fair somewhere between Burning Man and Exploritorium. That description nailed it.

Why do we love this event and can’t believe that we hadn’t attended before? Not only did we encounter mad scientists of a sort but because almost every artist, scientist, inventor at the fair reuses, repurposes, and recycles other object to create art, cleaning robots, giant mousetraps, and transportation (mostly creatively built bikes).

Even the entertainment had a sustainable element with a solar stage but we caught the band Fossil Fuel at the Human Powered Stage where the bands powered their instruments and amps from bicycle powered generators. That way, we earned our music. Maybe people should try this with their TV so they would have some incentive to exercise.

Now, we can’t be sure about how sustainable it is to jolt 1,000,000 volts of electricity from two five foot Tesla Coils into a guy wearing a grounded metallic suit but the sheer spectacle of watching the long electrical arcs made us think how the electro guy might be able to creatively energize a small town.

Seeing all of the innovations like Algaelab which creates a personal algae photo-bioreactor and the not so practical but highly amusing inventions like the giant mousetrap made us believe that humans can still create mind-boggling inventions and art while not using up precious resources.

Fancy Food Show – A Grocery Bag of Tasty Treats

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Who doesn’t like food? Especially fancy food. Lot’s of people do as judged by the crowds filling the aisles and booths of the Moscone Center for the 35th Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. With so many munchies, nibbles and treats to delve though we had to restrict our nibbling, tasting and inquires to the ever expanding Natural and Organic section.

Food like anything else can be about expectation. We set the organic chocolaty bar fairly high and weren’t disappointed by the plethora of organic chocolates but we actually went in search of more interesting items. Zhena’s Gypsy teas marked our first discovery. Even though they’ve been around for about 10 year they more recently created five biodynamic teas and we felt much better after sampling the Caramelized Pear flavor. On top of the tea itself we had to like containers made from 70% recycled steel (and the cans are 100% recyclable because they contain no paper stuck with glue. They make their tea bags from non-GMO corn silk and can be composted as they biodegradable after 60 days. Having this teas makes us feel good better come 4 pm tea time.

We know that several natural partially organic (organic flour) bog bones exist but we could help from talking (no sampling for us) with the owners of Bare Bones dog bones. If they hailed from Cali then we might not of stopped but seeing that these guys make their all natural bones in Dallas caused us to discuss how people in Big D see these dog bones of all things. They mentioned that the people in Texas don’t exactly “get” the whole dog bone thing but they know that organic is some buzz word so they continue to go along for the ride. Go get ‘em Fido!

Field Roast impressed us not just by feeding us tons of samples of their various fake meats but by showing us their factory in  a renovated 1920s former dairy building in Seattle. These commitment to re-using an existing building cost them more than moving into some new factory but it showed that along with their commitment to use local veggies and minimal packing that their heart or rather their “meat” is in the right place.

We weren’t so happy to see all the companies pushing organic this and that in horrific plastic packaging. We saw enough gluten free, natural, corn syrup based products in the section (we don’t want to call anyone out at this point) that must have had various green marketing gurus earning their bonuses. We wish that they would spend less money on marketing about how good their product is and just make their product better.

The Green Festival 2009 – San Francisco

Monday, November 16th, 2009

As some of my colleagues and I wondered Friday (with less people) then Saturday (bobbed and weaved through the packed crowds) through the San Francisco Green Festival 2009 and we put aside any thoughts of the outside the green world bubble with the economic woes, with so many downtrodden uncreative businesses sticking to the old game plan. Here we viewed, tasted and discussed fresh innovative and mostly sustainable ideas.

We have to give the festival credit, maybe it seemed as though more authentic green businesses showed up at this year’s version. We didn’t see much corporate greenwashing like the not as Green as it used to be Burt’s Bees. Also, Coke owned Honest Tea sold its not so green corporate drink but that would be a minor quibble. Aside from checking out some of the various discussion groups (state of small Green business) and even some cooking demos (how to make organic stew) most of the time we spent wandering the trade floor.

Without spending too much time or words (we’ll post some more ramblings soon) here’s some of the cool stuff we found. Zen Honeycutt’s mother roped us in (or rather grabbed) us to introduce us to her daughter who is busy creating her own lavender empire with her practically lavish lotions, eyeshades and creams. Just down the long aisle, we spotted the reusable sandwich bag the Fresh Snack Pack. Great idea in place of the sandwich bags that get tossed. These packs contain no PVCs but we’d like to find out what these bad boys consist of. We had no doubt about what the Organic Essence lip balm consisted of. But we licked our lips for more than just the organic ingredients. The 100% FSC compostable non-plastic tube really wowed us. Why hadn’t someone thought of this before? Like us? We also ignored the wishes of our dentists and sampled the multitudes of chocolates, and we sampled them all but we liked Alter Eco bar (especially the dark) not only for the best and richest creamy favor but also for the organic ingredients and the fair trade philosophy that the relatively small company abides by.

As for 2010….bring it on!

Big Important Speeches and Little Breakout Groups at BSR

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

No matter who attends the BSR conference, we always seem to find a balance between the people who legitimately wish to improve sustainability, not just for their company but the planet, and those who set out to further their profits by subtle or blatant greenwashing.

During the Thursday morning breakfast, Zhang Yue, chairman and CEO of China-based Broad Air Conditioning woke the crowd up as he spoke through an interpreter. A few minutes before that, I found myself asking a colleague “Who is this guy?” After 10 minutes, I changed my mind. More people should listen to this guy. True, I haven’t done due diligence on his company but if his company does half the things that he says they do then I’m on board. Yue created China’s first “non-electric chiller” and insists on showing consumers how triple paned windows will reduce their need to use air conditioners. Consider that their business revolves around making air conditioners. (more…)

Two to Tango – All Electric, Way Fast, But Pricey

Monday, August 17th, 2009

small  electric car

It was a one in 20 chance encounter.  I felt like a paparazzi who got a chance to spy a celebrity but in this instance my camera caught a shot of the Tango, the car that makes look the Smart Car look like a Lincoln Continental.  Only about 10-20 Tangos exists which makes the sighting more special. Actually my neighbor (a solar guy who already drives an EV-4) had the thing in his driveway in the Lower Haight and a crowd of passersby, tourists, and green auto enthusiasts formed around this electric only car.

As they say, looks can be deceiving. My neighbor said that the Tango can beat a Tesla in terms of acceleration. The Tango can accelerate from zero to over 130 mph in one gear. It accelerates from zero to 60 mph in about 4 seconds. We say Zoom to that.

Don’t think that just because this little guy is small that it isn’t safe. Okay, relatively safe. It contains a crash tested roll cage (like they use for race cars). More importantly is comfort. You’d think that anyone sitting in the back would be subjected to eating their knees but the back seat allows more room than one might guess with the running boards for legroom. (more…)