Human Journey

Nice Guys Finish Green

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By Seth Bauer

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more genial vineyard owner than Jeff Kunde. Four generations of winemaking in the Sonoma Valley have apparently mellowed the Kundes like a rich red. It may be thanks to the landscape, spectacular even on a foggy December morning. It may be the sweet taste of a second-harvest Zinfandel grape from a hundred-year-old vine, the recognition from his fellow winemakers and from the state of California for his winery’s sustainability efforts, or the financial security of owning 1800 acres. Or it may just be Jeff Kunde.

As we tour the vine-laden hills, Kunde leaves most of the big steps the company has taken to the press kit, delighting instead in the small things that might go unnoticed. The owl boxes, for example. Local schoolchildren are encouraged to get to know the estate and the important role owls play in protecting the fruit by visiting and painting the owl houses that are mounted on poles in the fields. Other kids are invited with their teachers to help plant native trees and shrubs in raised gardens. As they grow, the trees will be replanted along the estate’s creeksides to improve water management, replacing the rows of grape vines that used to be planted right up to the banks. Kunde also likes to reconnect adult wine lovers to the land. He personally leads morning-long hikes through the property, culminating in lunch and a wine tasting atop one of the hills, all of which, he points out, still have their native trees at the peaks.

At the Green Wine Summit, which Jeff and I both attended, winemakers discussed the big issues confronting them and the planet:

  • The growing population of California, which pits farmers against developers in a fight for land and water
  • The degradation of the soil from years of “modern” farming techniques
  • International competition from South America, where production costs are lower
  • Air quality, climate change, and carbon footprints

The needed changes will be brought about by activists of all kinds: politicians, consumers, citizen-leaders—and understated business owners like Jeff Kunde, who seems genuinely interested in simply doing the right thing.

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