For the casual diner, the biggest worry when ordering salmon is whether to drink red wine or white.
For winegrower and conservation advocate Phil Coturri, that’s the least of his concerns.
“The way I look at it, everything I do in the vineyards feeds into San Francisco Bay,” said the 63-year-old vineyard manager. “As a kid growing up in Sonoma Valley, the steelhead would come up a lot of the creeks (that) they’re no longer coming up.
“I want to see them return.”
His life-long commitment to healthy agricultural practices has earned him recognition from the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA), which will have its third annual Sonoma dinner on Friday, March 11 at Ramekins Event Center.
“Phil Coturri is well known for his organic and bio-dynamic winegrowing practices and, thusly, for his water-conservation practices,” said Victor Gonella, founder and treasurer of GGSA. “Conserving and wise water policies are needed to keep the iconic salmon and the salmon industry strong, along with California’s water dependent economy. Mr. Coturri understands this.”
But the celebration comes even as prospects for a healthy salmon run in Delta waters remain dim for 2016. “Central Valley fisheries are currently in a depressed state due to bad spawning and rearing conditions,” said John McManus, executive director of the GGSA. While he’s hopeful the commercial salmon season won’t be closed altogether, as it was in 2008 and 2009, he anticipates both commercial and sport ocean salmon fishing “will have restrictions stronger than last year’s.”
McManus claimed the “only reason there’s hope for an ocean salmon fishing season this year is because of GGSA’s work,” which included trucking baby hatchery salmon to safe release sites in the Delta and Bay in 2014. These are largely the fish expected to be caught as adult salmon in the ocean this year, he said.
Among the 800 acres that Coturri manages, in both Napa and Sonoma counties, many are hillside vineyards that, while they may be miles from the Bay, are still part of the same ecosystem. Coturri recognizes the connection between vineyards and salmon in his agricultural work.
“I call it fish-friendly farming,” said Coturri. This means water management, erosion control, no chemical fertilizers or pesticides in his vineyards and other steps.
Coturri even sees an identity with what he does and what a fisherman does. “We can’t isolate farming from the fish – I look at a commercial salmon fisherman, he’s farming the ocean. He has the same responsibility with the ocean as I do with the vineyards that I grow.”
Coturri’s no newcomer to trendy sustainable farming techniques – he’s been using organic bio-dynamic methods for nearly 40 years in his business, Enterprise Vineyard Management.
His vineyards are well-represented in Sonoma – Pangloss, Lasseter, Robert Kamen, Richard Arrowood's Amapola Creek, Repris and other premium Sonoma labels have used the services of Enterprise Vineyard Management since it was established in 1979. He also partners with his two sons Max and Sam in Sixteen 600 Wines, which will be featured at the March 11 dinner.
The GGSA event is a fundraiser with admission by advance sales at $150, with sponsor packages and reserved VIP tables available to raise funds for GGSA and its salmon restoration projects. There will be also be silent and open auctions along with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and dinner, and the chance to tell fish stories.