The legacy of the Mondavi family in the wine industry is renowned for producing some of California's finest wines for generations. Carlo Mondavi, the grandson of the legendary winemaker, Robert Mondavi, has stepped forward as a pioneer in transitioning their legacy family winery to regenerative agriculture. Carlo’s journey towards sustainable practices was triggered by a concern for the environment, particularly the plight of monarch butterflies, and the realization of the dangers of glyphosate to both wildlife and human health.
In 2016, Moms Across America revealed that ten major California wines contain glyphosate - the primary active ingredient in Roundup weedkiller and over 700 other glyphosate-based herbicides. Glyphosate, classified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2015, was present in all three categories of wine - conventional (chemically grown), organic, and biodynamic. This discovery raised alarm bells about the potential health risks posed by glyphosate contamination in wines.
In 2017 Moms Across America’s founder and Executive Director, Zen Honeycutt had a series of conversations with Carlo Mondavi about the human health impacts of glyphosate laden vines. Zen states:
Moms Across America is very excited to see Carlo Mondavi spearheading such beneficial changes in the grape-growing community. We had several communications with Carlo a few years ago and gave him glyphosate studies that we believe supported these changes. We hope grape growers and farmers across the globe are inspired by his leadership and switch to non-toxic, regenerative organic farming methods.
Mondavi, 43, envisions something of an agricultural revolution that would rein in farming’s carbon footprint, estimated at roughly a quarter of the greenhouse emissions each year. Glyphosate in organic and biodynamic wines was a startling discovery in the Moms Across America report. Organic and biodynamic vineyards do not permit the use of Roundup or glyphosate-based herbicides, making the contamination entirely unexpected. The results indicate that the drift of chemical sprays from neighboring conventional vineyards could be the cause of this contamination. This revelation has significant implications, potentially leading to legal ramifications for contamination and devaluation of products from organic and biodynamic vineyards.
Glyphosate-based herbicides consist of more than just glyphosate as the active ingredient. Scientists have discovered that co-formulants found in these herbicides can be up to 1000 times more toxic than glyphosate alone. French scientist Gilles-Éric Seralini and his team revealed that these co-formulants also act as endocrine hormone disruptors, contributing to health issues like breast cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, and other health problems. Thus, the presence of glyphosate in wines could have broader implications for human health beyond just the risk of glyphosate exposure itself.
Mondavi aims for more than keeping glyphosate and co-formulants out of his wine. He also envisions a combination of regenerative agriculture, increased biodiversity, and what he calls “renewable farming,” which relies on renewable sources of energy rather than fossil fuels.
This is in contrast to conventional vineyards that routinely use Roundup and glyphosate-based herbicides to control weeds. During the late winter or early spring, a strip of 1-2 feet is sprayed on either side of the grapevines, killing weeds while the vines are dormant. Plant pathologist Don Huber from Purdue University suggests that the vines inevitably absorb the herbicides through their roots and bark, eventually translocating the herbicides into the leaves and grapes.
Monarch Butterflies: A Catalyst for Change
Carlos Mondavi's transition to regenerative agriculture was driven, in part, by his concern for monarch butterflies. The decline of these iconic butterflies has been linked to the widespread use of glyphosate, which decimates milkweed - a critical plant for monarch caterpillars. As Mondavi witnessed this ecological crisis, he recognized the need for sustainable agricultural practices to protect not only the butterflies but also the broader environment, and with input from watch-dog organizations like Moms Across America, human health.
Mondavi's realization of the potential dangers of glyphosate extended beyond environmental concerns. As the wine industry faces lawsuits linking non-Hodgkin's lymphoma to glyphosate exposure, he understood the significance of transitioning away from conventional practices. Thus, he made the decisive move to embrace regenerative agriculture in the family winery, championing sustainable practices to protect the land, consumers, and the environment.
By taking a stand for monarch butterflies and recognizing the potential human health risks, Mondavi embodies the transformative power of conscious decision-making in the pursuit of sustainable winemaking. His transition to regenerative agriculture serves as an inspiring example for other legacy wineries, encouraging them to prioritize ecological stewardship and human well-being in their practices. As we move forward, the movement to avoid glyphosate in wine production gains momentum, heralding a new era of wine-making that values the health of the land, the people, and the planet above all else.