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The Passionate Purist

Sonoma vineyard manager John Rauck finds more than a little wisdom in Bob Cannard's maverick ways

By Christina Waters

I think Bob is right," says John Rauck, president of the Sonoma County Grapegrowers' Association and manager for Burdell Properties' 850 acres of grapes in Sonoma and Napa counties. "Though I don't want to minimize its impact, phylloxera is not as big a thing as it's cracked up to be."

Rauck called upon Cannard to come out and look at some vineyards after having heard him speak at a conference on alternatives to methyl bromide. "After quite a few other speakers, including entomologists from UC-Davis, up strides Cannard and lets loose with a torrent of prose about life abundance. My vineyard manager's jaw dropped when he heard Cannard essentially saying that what we needed was more nematodes, not less," Rauck chuckles.

Cannard's mission is to tune up the environmental balance, making plants strong enough to host phylloxera without buying the farm. "Agriculture throws nature out of balance, there's no doubt about it," Rauck says. "And Bob is exploring how to restore that balance." On the other hand, Rauck admits that, like many growers, he is tearing out phylloxera-infested vines, a move that ironically opens the way for replanting with more appropriate grapes for climate and market.

"It's a lot like the difference between approaches to human health," Rauck observes. "Western medicine spends all its time trying to kill the virus, while Chinese medicine tries to boost the immune system."

Rauck also agrees with Cannard that "a more biologically diverse environment would delay the devastation of phylloxera. But I don't think you can make a vulnerable, depleted rootstock survive in the long run--you just can't turn back the clock. Bob would point out that today we're overcropping. And he's right. It would be better to plant fewer vines, farther apart. But your accountant wouldn't be very happy about it."

Rauck adds, "I think Bob's theories have potential validity--up to a point. I admire what Bob believes. He's a real purist and there's a place for purists."

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From the April 4-10, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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