Yvon Chouinard, 70, is a world-class mountain climber, passionate surfer, committed environmentalist and founder of Patagonia, the highly successful outdoor clothing and equipment company. Since its inception in 1965, then as Chouinard Equipment, Patagonia has championed environmental causes, and in recent years pioneered the production of fleece fiber from recycled soda bottles. By 2020, the goal is to have everything Patagonia makes recyclable. In 2001, Chouinard founded "One Percent for the Planet," an alliance of businesses that promise to donate at least 1 percent of net revenues to environmental causes. One of Chouinard's personal passions is wine, and his tastes have evolved over the years, along with his business philosophy. Now he's lending his support to a new effort by the Napa Valley Vintners aimed at greening the wine industry.
Wine Spectator: How did you first become interested in wine?
Yvon Chouinard: I was about 16 years old and living in Burbank, Calif. We were dirt poor and there was an old Italian woman named Mama Brusso who had a small vineyard in the valley and who made her own wine. We'd take that gallon jug of wine, crawl under the fence at the local drive-in movie, sit in the grass and drink it.
WS: So when did you graduate from Mama Brusso's jug wines?
YC: I've got a house in Jackson Hole. In Moose [a small town near Jackson Hole], there's a resort with a wine shop that had the biggest selection of wine in western America called Dornan's. It's out in the middle of nowhere, a real family place. It's got a great view of the Tetons. He used to keep the good wines down in the cellar and he'd have to interview you before he'd sell the good stuff to you. On Fridays they'd serve a special dinner and you could have any wine from their wine store at retail cost, no corkage. They had a Romanian Pinot Noir, Premiat, that was $3 a bottle. That was all I could afford at the time.
WS: And how has your taste in wine evolved?
YC: My assistant now, Mike Dunne, was manager of the wine store at Dornan's. He really knows his wines and we've been discovering wines together and slowly educating our palates. I travel a lot and so I've been getting exposed to a lot of different wines and I've gotten so I know what I like and don't like. I try to eat locally, but I drink globally.
WS: And what do you like?
YC: These days I'm over these over-fruited California wines. What I really like in wines is that funky, earthy flavor that you get out of some Pinots and Burgundies. A lot of the great Bordeaux have that. But I've been able to find it in some $30 to $40 Spanish wines and Rhône wines. I love the Italian whites like Verdicchio and Vermentino, and I hate big, fat California white wines. [But] the best Chardonnay I ever had was a Ridge Montebello Chardonnay. A friend of ours brought 40 bottles on horseback into the Wind River Range in Wyoming. One of the best reds I've ever had was the Ridge Montebello Cab '86.
WS: How does wine fit in with your environmental views?
YC: There's a revolution going on in food in this country today. People are not eating organic foods because it's the right thing to do. They're eating them because they taste better. And I see the same kind of movement beginning to happen in wine. I'm interested in exploring biodynamic and organic wines, just as I am food.
WS: You spoke at the Napa Valley Vintners' unveiling of their Green Wineries program. What did you think of the program?
YC: I was blown away by what they're doing. They've realized the federal and state governments aren't going to do anything, and that local governments and grassroots movements and businesses are where the changes are going to come from. They want to change the whole valley: Start with wineries, then move to retail stores and restaurants. I've been at this for 30 years and this is the best, most well-thought-out program I've ever seen.
WS: What do you see as the motivation for businesses to jump on the environmental bandwagon?
YC: It's like David Brower [executive director of the Sierra Club] said: "There is no business to be done on a dead planet."
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions