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Sierra magazine
Enjoy | The Green Life

By Avital Binshtock

Start 'em Young | Trendsetter | Recycle Yourself | Pet Projects | Hidden Potential | Earth and Stars |
Sustainable Wine Guide | More Good Lines

Start 'em Young

The arrival of a firstborn can cause even the most narcissistic, Hummer-driving wastrel to get a little green--and we're not talking the queasy shade that comes from wiping up baby spew. That first look into your baby's eyes is a window to the future, providing motivation aplenty to keep the planet alive for at least one more generation. Given the recent explosion of eco-products for tots, we thought we'd narrow the options for you.

Teach your children well with readings from BIG EARTH, LITTLE ME (Scholastic Inc., 2009), a just-published flap-and-picture book for four- to eight-year-olds that's short on plot but long on "simple ways to help the earth." Messages include "I can recycle" and "I can use both sides of the paper." The cheery collage-style illustrations have a granular, earthy quality and are printed on recycled paper with organic soy-based ink. $17, scholastic.com

ZoLi's BABY OHM is a diaper-changing mat that maintains its grip on a surface, rolls up yoga-matstyle, and comes in bright pink or blue. It's free of latex and polyvinyl chloride and is 100 percent biodegradable. $20, zo-li.com

From birth to first flush, the typical American baby mucks up 5,000 diapers, which translates to 21 billion disposables dumped annually into U.S. landfills. Biodegradable brands ease the planet's pain--and so do HAPPY HEINYS, made of reusable cloth and available in 22 colors and several sassy patterns. Their one-size styling enlists snaps and Velcro to accommodate kids from 8 to 35 pounds, thereby reducing a child's, uh, waste stream. $18.95, modernmommygear.com

SPRIG'S TRUCK TOYS, for ages three and older, let little Sequoia and Astrid pretend they're driving in an environmentally respectful manner. Made in Canada, the toys are battery-free, paint-free, and made of recycled plastics and reclaimed wood. When tykes roll the Discover Rig (above) forward, motor sounds and eco-educational songs play. When they pump the Baja Scout up and down, its lights turn on. Accompanying adventure-guide characters plug in via USB and chat about climbing mountains, traveling in rainforests, and exploring the outback. $20 to $60, sprigtoys.com

Aurora Naturally's ECO-PLUSH ANIMALS depict threatened and endangered species like koalas, polar bears, wolves, otters, and penguins. The critters' remarkably soft exteriors are handmade in Indonesia from 100 percent soy fiber, and the stuffing comes from the kapok tree, a sustainable rainforest crop. $15 to $30, currentenergy.com/store


Nationwide, more than 770 sewer systems discharge 850 billion gallons of untreated waste into waterways each year.


Trendsetter

Brad Farmer, founder and chairman, National Surfing Reserves Australia

Seventeen years after he imported surfing's sharpest environmental tool, the Surfrider Foundation, from America to his Australian homeland, Brad Farmer is returning the favor. He recently flew to California to help the Save the Waves Coalition launch a global version of his brainchild, National Surfing Reserves Australia, which has designated nearly a dozen Aussie surf spots as sacrosanct. The title transcends semantics: It adds a new layer of governmental protection, buttressing coastal zones threatened by wave-wrecking development proposals.

Q: Less than 1 percent of Americans surf regularly, while 14 percent of Australians do. Won't that make it tougher to create surf reserves in the United States?

A: Much tougher--unless you redefine the demographic reach. Anyone who engages in recreation in the intertidal zone is a surfer. Barack Obama is a surfer. Your mum walking the beach, she's a surfer. Suddenly you've multiplied your number from 3 million to 30 million.

Q: At a recent roundtable on this project, Mark Massara, the Sierra Club's Coastal Programs director (and a surfer), warned against emphasizing a surf spot's positive fiscal impact. A surfer might value a wave at $50 million, but a developer will argue that the jetty-protected marina he wants to build in its place will be worth twice that.

A: Massara is right. Natural coastal environments are beyond value. They're priceless, and they can't be replaced. --interview by Steve Hawk

ON THE WEB To learn more, go to savethewaves.org.


Recycle Yourself

Americans don't love to think about this, but we'll all end up contributing to the billion-dollar funeral industry--and to say it's not the greenest of enterprises is a deadly understatement. According to Mark Harris's Grave Matters (Scribner, 2007), Americans entomb more than 1.6 million tons of concrete and nearly 830,000 gallons of toxic embalming fluid annually, plus immense amounts of steel.

The solution? Forethought--and green burial. Colorful Coffins (colorfulcoffins.com) sells biodegradable caskets and urns. The ARKA Ecopod (naturalburialcompany.com/ecopod), above, is made of recycled paper, looks like a peapod, and comes in vibrant colors; it's also handmade and biodegradable.

To find a Green Burial Council-certified funeral provider near you, go to greenburialcouncil.org.


Pet Projects

Animal shelters have always saved lives. Now they're also helping to save the environment. In the United States and Canada, at least a dozen green shelters are open, under construction, or being planned. Planet-friendly features include vegetated roofing, solar power, water recycling, and geothermal climate control.

The Potter League for Animals in Middleton, Rhode Island, opened its environmentally responsible facility in November, and in 2004 the Tompkins County SPCA in Ithaca, New York, became the first animal shelter to earn a silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating. --Debra J. White


Hidden Potential

When was the last time your garbage sprouted a plant? The packaging for the Pangea Organics skincare line does just that, thanks to the organic seeds embedded in its biodegradable, 100 percent postconsumer paper. Bury the fibrous box from any Pangea Organics item and you'll end up with a spruce tree, a basil annual, or amaranth flowers.

Want to give your own documents that kind of growth potential? Botanical PaperWorks prints plantable invitations, greeting cards, and business cards that bloom into wildflowers like poppies, catchflies, and snapdragons.


Earth and Stars

Ever wonder whether celebs who claim to be ecofriendly really walk the walk when fans aren't watching? We got the inside scoop on Adrian Grenier (who plays Vincent Chase on HBO's Entourage and hosts Planet Green's Alter Eco) from Grenier's Entourage costar Kevin Connolly (right).

"Adrian's really done his best to make Entourage as green a set as possible. For example, I'm a big hand-washer. I like to wash my hands all day, so when we go to the makeup trailer, Adrian makes me use one paper towel the whole day to dry my hands. After I dry my hands, I have to hang my paper towel, and I make sure he's watching! I'm like, 'Adrian, do you see this?' It's great! But really, at the end of the day, it's simple things. Like, I'll finish the water bottle and he'll just say, 'Refill it. What's the point of getting another one?'"

Red or White? Go With Green.
Please your palate (and the planet) with these sustainable wines

It's the season to toast moms, dads, and grads--but who really needs an excuse to savor wine? In that spirit, we corralled five wine experts to blind-sample and score 20 whites and 20 reds from around the world, each with a legitimate claim to environmental responsibility.

How'd we pick 40 from the hundreds (maybe thousands) of wines claiming to be green? Since even pros have their limits, we confined our selection to the most popular kinds--omitting blends, bubblies, and esoteric tongue twisters like gewuerztraminer. Then we researched which eco-minded brands oenophiles tend to respect. Then we weeded out the greenwashers. Our 1-to-10 scoring system required the experts to rate a wine's appearance, aroma, taste, structure, body, and finish. We put extra stock in the overall score the tasters gave each wine (1 = "hate it"; 10 = "love it").

A professional-grade wine tasting isn't the cheese-and-giggles affair you might imagine. The panel assembled in Sierra's modest conference room, where they swirled, sniffed, sipped, and spit, jotting their judgments in mostly somber silence. Between tippings, the judges launched into earnest, adjective-laden debate. No one imbibed (not one swallow, they assured us), and no car keys were collected.

The result: a distillation of heavyweight opinions about wines that do their part for the planet, proof that at least some of them deserve a place in the most distinguished wine cellar. --Avital Binshtock and Michael Fox

OUR EXPERT PANEL


Alyssa Rapp, founder of Bottlenotes.com, an online wine community, and author of Bottlenotes Guide to Wine: Around the World in 80 Sips.

Al Hernandez, editor of the Vine Times and host of nationally syndicated food and wine radio programs.

Traci Dutton, sommelier at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Emily Wines, master sommelier (one of only 15 U.S. women to hold the title) at Fifth Floor restaurant and winner of the prestigious Remi Krug Cup.

G. M. "Pooch" Pucilowski, chief judge of the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition.

THE WINNERS - WHITES

Sauvignon Blanc

Ceàgo Vinegarden 2007 Redwood Valley, CA
PRICE: $16 | SCORE: 7.8

TASTING NOTES: The experts agreed Ceàgo's light-straw-colored wine is a good example of a sauvignon blanc. Hernandez detected a "floral and citrus aroma," and Rapp noticed a "slight effervescence" and an "appropriately tart finish." Pairing recommendations included shellfish, especially ceviche, and roasted vegetables.

GREEN NOTES: Organic and biodynamic, Ceàgo shuns chemical fertilizers and pesticides, using only homeopathic sprays.

Saracina 2007
Mendocino, CA
PRICE: $25 | SCORE: 7.3

Honig 2007
Napa Valley, CA
PRICE: $16 | SCORE: 5.2

Pinot Grigio

Fetzer 2007 Mendocino, CA
PRICE: $9 | SCORE: 7.25

TASTING NOTES: With a "very alluring" aroma of flowers and honeysuckle (Hernandez) and a taste reminiscent of apples, grapefruit, and, according to Rapp, banana flambe, Fetzer has a "nice mouthfeel" (Pucilowski) and a tasty finish. But not everyone was sold. Dutton said, "This uninteresting style is what we've come to expect from pinot grigio," and Wines opined that it's "not exciting," adding, "This is the pinot grigio for ladies who lunch." Drink it alone, they said, or pair it with grilled vegetables, salad, or fish.

GREEN NOTES: Fetzer is powered by renewable energies (solar, wind, and geothermal), and its other green moves include composting and reducing its landfill-bound materials by 95 percent since 1990.

Greenwood Ridge 2007
Anderson Valley, CA
PRICE: $18 | SCORE: 6.8

Brancott 2007
Blenheim, NZ
PRICE: $12 | SCORE: 5.6

Chardonnay

Handley Cellars Estate 2006 Anderson Valley, CA PRICE: $20 | SCORE: 6.9

TASTING NOTES: A yellow-gold wine with a muted apple aroma and an oaky fruit taste, Handley has a "perfect" texture and a "luscious" finish (Pucilowski). Hernandez noted its great flexibility and called it a "perfect dinner-party wine that will leave your guests wanting more." Pairing suggestions included eggplant and rich pastas.

GREEN NOTES: Handley is 75 percent solar powered, avoids using chemicals whenever possible to prevent runoff, and makes its wines from organic grapes.

[TIE] French Rabbit 2007
Pays d'Oc, France
PRICE: $10 | SCORE: 5

[TIE] Paul Dolan 2007
Mendocino, CA
PRICE: $18 | SCORE: 5

Riesling

Banrock Station 2006 | Riverland, South Australia
PRICE: $7 | SCORE: 8.8

TASTING NOTES: This was the true winner, scoring higher than any other. Wines described its aroma as a "laser beam of lime blossom" and wrote that it "smells Australian." Rapp was surprised at the lushness of the taste given the drink's ultralight color, and Dutton, who loved its purity, imagined it paired with schnitzel or Waldorf salad.

GREEN NOTES: The company has contributed more than $5 million to wetland-conservation projects, installed water-conserving irrigation systems, and runs the solar-powered Wine and Wetland Centre.

Greenwood Ridge 2007
Anderson Valley, CA
PRICE: $18 | SCORE: 7.6

Fetzer 2007
Mendocino, CA
PRICE: $9 | SCORE: 6


THE WINNERS - REDS

Pinot Noir

Sokol Blosser 2006 | Dundee Hills, Oregon
PRICE: $38 | SCORE: 7.1

TASTING NOTES: Pucilowski "didn't realize organic wineries could make such a fine example of pinot noir," and Rapp called it a "classic Oregonian pinot." This wine, all cherry, is garnet colored with vanilla-roasted oak and tobacco characteristics that, Dutton noticed, "make you hungry." For what? Try lacquered Chinese duck and spinach (Wines) or coq au vin (Hernandez).

GREEN NOTES: Sokol Blosser is organic, has been certified by Salmon-Safe (salmonsafe.org), and was the first winery to earn LEED certification.

Stoller 2006
Willamette Valley, OR
PRICE: $40 | SCORE: 6.8

DeLoach 2006
Sonoma, CA
PRICE: $45 | SCORE: 5.8

Merlot

Fairhills 2008
Western Cape, South Africa
PRICE: $10 | SCORE: 5.7

TASTING NOTES: A nicely balanced, dark-ruby merlot with a taste that recalls smoked green bell pepper, Fairhills has a "healthy yet silky" structure (Rapp), a "fair amount of tannins" (Pucilowski), and "arcs from earth to fruit" (Dutton). "I did not expect to enjoy this wine as much as I did," Rapp wrote, and Hernandez thought it "must be paired with food." Dutton recommended herb-roasted pork or semi-hard cheeses.

GREEN NOTES: Fairhills wines are made of handpicked, organic grapes from vines more than 10 years old.

[TIE] Ceago Vinegarden 2006
Redwood Valley, CA
PRICE: $22 | SCORE: 5.6

[TIE] Terra Blanca 2003
Red Mountain, WA
PRICE: $20 | SCORE: 5.6

Cabernet Sauvignon

Wente 2006
Livermore Valley, CA
PRICE: $25 | SCORE: 8

TASTING NOTES: Pucilowski summed up the majority opinion: "Loved this wine! Good taste, soft tannins, very balanced." Rapp called it a "lovely, feminine cab." Others noted a deep-purple color, a sweet-plum aroma, and a vanilla-cappuccino taste with spicy oak notes. Pairing recommendations included lamb chops, molasses beans, and chard.

GREEN NOTES: Wente's Farming for the Future program aims to enhance soil vitality, minimize water use, and reduce waste.

Cade 2006
Napa Valley, CA
PRICE: $60 | SCORE: 7.2

Bonterra 2006
Mendocino, CA
PRICE: $16 | SCORE: 6.7

Zinfandel

Quivira 2006
Sonoma, CA
PRICE: $34 | SCORE: 7.4

TASTING NOTES: Though Hernandez said, "No one knows what they want their zins to be when they grow up," Dutton was "amazed that with this ripeness, there is good acid balance." The experts detected a muted cherry-pie aroma; a taste that evoked toasted oak, bitter chocolate, and "bubblegummy fruit" (Wines); and "a 'pow' on the finish" (Dutton). Pair it with chocolate--especially mole sauce.

GREEN NOTES: Quivira, which is 100 percent organic and solar, has been working since 1998 to restore a nearby stream in which steelhead and salmon spawn.

[TIE] Barra 2004
Mendocino, CA
PRICE: $20 | SCORE: 5.8

[TIE] Kunde Estate 2005
Sonoma, CA
PRICE: $18 | SCORE: 5.8


STAFF PICKS

After the experts finished, a handful of Sierra Club staffers rushed in for their own tasting--all in the name of diligent journalism, of course. How else could we report to you, dear readers, what these wines taste like to the average schmo? We'd hoped our employees would keep their comments folksy ("Yum," for instance, or "I want more"), but some masked their lack of expertise behind a smoke screen of highfalutin verbiage. This time, keys were confiscated. Here are the truly nonprofessional results.

 

WHITES

Sauvignon Blanc

Ceàgo Vinegarden 2007
Redwood Valley, CA
PRICE: $16 | SCORE: 4.5

We agreed with the experts that this was the best sauvignon blanc, though we gave it a lower score than they did, calling it "not too fruity," "smooth," and "refreshing."

Pinot Grigio

Fetzer 2007
| Mendocino, CA
PRICE: $9 | SCORE: 7.25

We also concurred with the pros that Fetzer makes the best ecofriendly pinot grigio, noting it was "light and pleasant" and "would be good ice-cold."

Chardonnay

Paul Dolan 2007
Mendocino, CA
PRICE: $18 | SCORE: 7

Tasters noted that this chardonnay, from an organic and biodynamic winery, "lingers on the tongue" and "goes down nice." When asked whether he'd buy it, one said, "Does it have a nice label?"

Riesling

Greenwood Ridge 2007
Anderson Valley, CA
PRICE: $18 | SCORE: 8

The highest scorer in the staff tasting garnered such remarks as "I would happily and willfully drink too much of this wine" (Adrian Cotter, senior webmaster) and "Yikes--I just love Rieslings!" (Regan Ranoa, online-
communities coordinator). One detractor called it "way too sweet." Greenwood Ridge has been 100 percent solar powered since 2005.


REDS

Pinot Noir

Sanford 2007
Santa Rita Hills, CA
PRICE: $54 | SCORE: 7.6

Many noted the strong nose, calling it everything from "earthy" to "Band-Aid." The taste is "rich and chewy," "as sophisticated as a Henry Moore sculpture in a Tuscan oak grove" (the latter from editor in chief Bob Sipchen). Sanford's walls are made of adobe, eliminating the need to heat or air-condition.

Merlot

Terra Blanca 2003
Red Mountain, WA
PRICE: $20 | SCORE: 6.8

Descriptions included "nice balance," "charming," and "a mature, 'I'll keep you company through a long winter evening' kind of wine" (Sipchen). Terra Blanca's special soil requires very little water, which is delivered via drip irrigation.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Long Meadow Ranch 2004
Napa Valley, CA
PRICE: $42 | SCORE: 7

This was the experts' least favorite cab, and though it scored well here, it didn't inspire many verbal evaluations. Most notable: "a bit tart." Long Meadow Ranch is a sustainable, organic farm that uses homemade composted fertilizer.

Zinfandel

Kunde Estate 2005
Sonoma, CA
PRICE: $18 | SCORE: 6

Some found this "earthy" and "robust." Sipchen (him again) said it had "a nuanced je ne sais quoi." Another complained that it's a "simpleminded one-note jam." Kunde conserves energy, restores creeks, and uses cover crops.



More Good Lines

--collected by Susan L. Hornik

Mira Sorvino, actress

"I'm hoping to get a greenish car. A green or a blue car at least, not just a normal car. And I'm a maniac about recycling. I'll pluck things out of the trash that have been erroneously thrown there that could be recycled."

Rosario Dawson, actress

"It's not that the world's gonna die--we just might not survive it. It might just shrug us off. So we need to be a lot more present . . . and responsible for ourselves."

Robert Redford, actor, director, producer

"I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise, what is there to defend?"

Isabella Rossellini, writer, director, and star of Green Porno, a series of short films reenacting critters' mating rituals

"One thing that is missing from the environment is laughter. All of these environmental problems, you feel totally overwhelmed...I do everything for laughs. I thought that my Green Porno should make green fun and so maybe convert more people to it, because part of me is also turned off by the green speech because it's always so negative and it always fills me with great guilt."

Photos and illustrations, from top: Lori Eanes (5), Glenn Duffus, Ecopod, iStockphoto/quisp65 (pets), Pangea Organics, Elevation/Photoshot and John Ueland (Connolly), Chuck Baldwin (8), Todd Williamson (Sorvino), Kristina Loggia (Redford)

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