Twelve Napa and Sonoma wineries have joined forces with Roots of Peace, a Marin County, Calif., nonprofit organization dedicated to clearing minefields around the world and turning them into vineyards.
The wineries have raised nearly $170,000 for the cause, according to Judy Jordan, CEO of J Wine Co. in Sonoma County and vintner spokeswoman for Roots of Peace. Contributions from the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy, the Slovenian Trust Fund and Autodesk, a software company in San Rafael, Calif., have brought the total to $500,000.
The group's efforts have even caught the eye of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan who, at an event on Sunday in Palo Alto, commended the organization for its ongoing efforts. "This is what I call the new diplomacy, where international organizations, the Red Cross, and grassroots groups come together to place pressure on governments," said Annan.
While other groups are involved in the campaign to remove land mines from war-torn countries, Roots of Peace focuses on returning agricultural lands to productive use. This spring, the group demined a 160-acre field in Dragalic, Croatia, and replanted it with grapevines; another 200 acres are scheduled for completion this summer. It can cost as much as $1,000 to remove a single land mine.
Roots of Peace founder Heidi Kuhn hopes to help mobilize the resources necessary to remove the estimated 70 million land mines scattered across 70 countries. In addition to claiming a victim roughly every 22 minutes, the land mines also have a devastating economic toll by preventing farmers from working their property.
In May, on a State Department-supported trip, Kuhn and Jordan visited Croatia with Croatian-born winemaker Mike Grgich, who founded Grgich Hills Cellars in Napa Valley.Croatia had long had its own wine industry before much of the country was destroyed in the war between the Serbs and the Croats that lasted from 1991 through 1996.
"What struck me was the similarity of the countryside in Croatia to Sonoma," said Jordan. "But with one major difference -- so many of the orchards and vineyards are dead, because farmers can't tend their fields. Children are tethered to poles because of the mines."
Jordan hopes that as word spreads throughout the winemaking community, other producers will contribute. "First and foremost, if we can just raise money for clearing the mines it's good, but we're also working on community-building," said Jordan. "Their winemakers are very good, they've been doing it for centuries. But we can contribute some of our marketing experience and we can help them develop nurseries so that they can plant varietals that are viable in the international marketplace."
For more information, call Roots of Peace at (415) 455-8884.
Read more about winemakers' efforts in Croatia: