"The Power of the Writer to Influence Sustainable Tourism" — by Natalie Galli

Many, many thanks go to Natalie Galli for writing up this information from the April BATW meeting:

The concept of “sustainability” got a workout on Saturday, April 17th, when the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa in American Canyon hosted BATW’s “Earth month” meeting. Napa resident Arvis Northrup gathered four local panelists to discuss The Power of the Writer to Influence Sustainable Tourism.

Carole Peccorini RN, MA characterized Sustainability as “our humanity. We get very special gifts from visiting other cultures.” She suggested that a traveler go forth “as a citizen of the world.” Her most recent humanitarian efforts were inspired by a visit to Uganda, in particular seeing the effects of war and AIDS on orphans. “One orphanage had one soccer ball that wasn’t even fully inflated, yet the residents will sing, dance and celebrate life at the drop of a hat.” She showed a photo of Evaline, “a bright shining being” who, amongst others, prompted Peccorini to begin The Butterfly Project which provides college funds ($60,000) for ten Ugandan and Kenyan girls. When Evaline finishes high school she will join four others already in nursing and five in education at the higher education level. Peccorini said, “I think it’s a mistake to bring a lot of stuff [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][to a village] – it starts the materialism.” Better to follow the directive of Wilford Welch, author of Tactics of Hope, whom she quoted: “We don’t need your charity. We need your partnership to solve problems.” She can be contacted at Carole43@sbcglobal.net or at 707-996-2167.

Margarita Ramirez, Tour Operator and Meeting Planner, spoke on The Sustainability of Spirit. For many years she involved herself in projects in war-torn countries, noting that where women survived long enough, they became the matriarchs of their society. A propensity for interpersonal connection and deep desire to guide others into a given culture led her to develop Traveling Matters . . . Journeys Connecting People and Place. Her “hunger to help people find their roots, to connect to their ancestral roots, to make room for the spiritual and the emotional,” prompts her to gear group tours toward contributing something to the places they go. She eschews the term “taking a journey”, favoring bringing a kind of mindfulness to travel: “We create the path…you take the walk.” She fashions trips in which travelers are encouraged to stay in one place four or five days, absorbing the culture, slowing down if they wish, “setting their feet in the ground” and simply people watching, rather than sticking to a rigorous schedule of sightseeing and museum-hopping. She promotes immersion in cultures which are trying to preserve their essence, “so that people will say ‘I want to go there.'” Ireland, for example, despite the “Celtic Tiger” – the emerald isle’s newly technological society – has maintained its quaintness, evidenced in the pastoral, non-fenced-in countryside that visitors still very much want to see. Her upcoming tour, The Hidden Treasures of Tuscany, will allow for visits to hill towns, piazzas, art and architectural wonders, as well as to biodynamic farms, where growing organically – “not picking certain weeds” – is a topic worthy of attention. All this with deluxe accommodations and tour guides. Phone: 707-939-7638 or info@travelingmatters.com.

Architect Paul Kelly, who has practiced in the Napa Valley for many years, described himself as “new to sustainable tourism”, but by the same token recognizes his involvement all along in the concept of sustainability by virtue of his long-standing interest in architectural preservation. “Many historic structures exhibit green traits,” he noted, “they are inherently green.” To restore an existing building means making the most of its “embodied energy” – the labor, materials, and resources expended in its original construction. The intelligence with which most of these edifices were planned – when squandering natural resources was unthinkable – meant employing passive solar aspects such as orientation towards the south, big windows affording natural light, air ventilation (and therefore natural air quality), pleasing proportions along with a generally smaller footprint, proximity to a water source and other common sense features. Usually these structures were built close to the city center and now luxuriate in mature landscaping and trees, all making for greater health and productivity and higher desirability in the market. Kelly mentioned the restorations of venerable Napa wineries such as Beringer, Schramsberg, and Inglenook – steeped in history, surviving Prohibition – which remain perennial tourist destinations. Sustainability has always been with us.

Engineer Hugh Linde, who described himself as a top winery expert, presented a Power Point on Sustainability and Wineries which revealed some staggering statistics. “In balanced wine production, for every gallon of vino, 100 to 250 gallons of water are used.” More water than that is an unconscientious – read unsustainable – amount. “From an engineering point of view, sustainability means handing over the resources and land to the grandchildren in an equal or better state than when handed to us . . . the Greeks and Romans planted vines where nothing else would grow.” In a properly husbanded vineyard, carbon dioxide, essentially, is turned into wine. Naturally decaying vegetable matter – a process assisted by mixing varieties, roots, stocks and crops – allows this fruitful cycle to begin anew. Yet some of the modern mega-wineries, hellbent on profits, have no such vision of the simple equation; planting monocrops without buffer zones and applying chemicals throw the balance off. We were treated to distressing aerial photos of large waste water ponds and dessicated acreage in the Napa Valley. “Greeks and Romans tilled salt into conquered peoples’ land to ensure that crops could never grow there again. Watch out for salt [or its modern synthetic equivalent] in the ground!”

Linde described how great it is to see olive trees, old oaks, fruits in vineyards, and subterranean areas providing natural cooling. He lauded low-impact wineries where the proprietor understands every aspect of the business, not just the financial angle, or the agricultural, but the whole. He worked on the Quintessa Winery, which balances 74% of its planted property with 26% for buildings, lakes and trees, has its own waste treatment pond, re-uses its water and has a cave. Every winery has some kind of pilot project for ‘sustainable’ and ‘organic’ going on right now. They’re running costs and looking at the benefits.” Sounds promising, and consumers who let those wineries know how much they prefer drinking wine that has minimal or no commercial chemicals make a proactive green statement. While the portrait he painted of modern viticultural practices was sometimes distressing, compared to others, “the wine industry is overall a fantastic one for the Napa Valley”.

Finally, a word about the hospitable Gaia Hotel and Spa, a visual breath of fresh air along the Highway 29 corridor, with its novel architecture, large outdoor marshland mural, swan-filled inner pond and drought-friendly landscaping. We were provided with Fair Trade Organic Coffees and a tasty surprise buffet lunch from their organic GAIA kitchen. When an establishment has gone to the trouble to achieve Gold LEED Certified-Hotel status, one’s curiosity is piqued – how, by what means, and to what degree? A quick check revealed that the bathrooms use 100% recycled content toilet tissue – now that’s attention to sustainable detail!

Natalie Galli

(Butterfly photo © April Orcutt)

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