Amid the clutter of my desk rests a biodegradable to-go container, inside of which I have a biodegradable drinking straw, one business card that reads “The Compost Club,” and pieces of recycled wine-bottle glass and broken terracotta pot that have been tumbled in a cement mixer until their edges have gone thick and soft.
When I recently drove to Kenwood in order to take a tour of the Vineyards Inn restaurant, it was not in search of these treasures, it was to see compost, and I did see compost. I also ate the best ceviche I have ever had, but that’s another story.
Steve Rose and his wife Colleen have owned the Vineyards Inn for 27 years, and their menu and green business practices have been evolving over the decades. The food they serve is local, with vegetables from their nearby organic farm, and organic meats, organic dairy and local fresh fish brought in almost daily. The atmosphere of the restaurant is friendly, relaxed and unpretentious. I’m instantly impressed, but I’m here to see the compost, not ogle the menu.
Steve begins our tour of the restaurant but quickly moves on to the source of my interest, a machine called the Earth Tub. The Roses purchased the Earth Tub about 10 years ago, when Sonoma County made an offer to local restaurants, grocers and schools that it would shoulder half the cost of this $6,000 piece of pure beauty. It is to here that almost all of the pre- and post-consumer waste from Vineyards Inn, including food waste, those nifty biodegradable drinking straws, place mats, cocktail napkins and shredded paper, are toted and dumped.
A gorgeous monstrosity, the Earth Tub holds and creates, in a mere six to eight weeks, mountains of nutritious compost, which the Roses then use to feed their organic farm. Steve Rose is so into composting that he serves on the board of directors for the Compost Club, a nonprofit that helps schools and businesses set up composting systems. The Roses do a lot of impressive things like this—so many that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. They have chickens and doves. They use garbage bags and to-go containers made from compostable corn product.
When they added an addition to the Vineyards Inn, they built it to accommodate the existing grape vines, and these vines now envelop the ceiling and drip with grapes that fill the dining room with a scent so intoxicating I want to curl up in there on a cot and have a nap. The farm and vineyard are certified organic, and the Roses are actively working to gain their biodynamic certification.
Steve’sRose tour continues to a recently acquired six-acre vineyard and the couple’s newly built green home and adjacent one-room B&B. I thought I came for compost and some Basque-inspired food, and I end up seeing the most amazing piece of green architecture that I have ever witnessed.
Everything Steve shows me is recycled or reclaimed: the gravel, the fencing, the gates, the beams, the sub flooring, the gutters, the sinks, cabinets, doors, granite, brick . . . everything. Even the insulation is made from recycled denim. At one point, I hold a sample of the insulation in my hands and take a sniff. It’s quite pleasant. All of the wood finishes are free of volatile organic compounds, and the entire house has this smooth, soothing smell, so different from the chemical tang usually associated with new houses or freshly painted rooms.
The landscaping is drought-resistant and fed with reclaimed water. The solar panels provide power for the house, with enough left over to feed back into PG&E’s grid, earning electrical credits for the darker months. The Roses only pay about $50 a year in electric bills. Their house is so ingeniously built that it can practically maintain the perfect temperature unassisted. It’s almost like it’s alive.
The fact that every door, sink, cabinet and countertop is created from reclaimed materials gives this house a sense of character that leaves me ready to uproot and move in permanently; for those interested in staying for a night or two, the Roses B&B, Casa Verde, is open for business, serving organic breakfast and a gorgeous view.
By the time I leave Kenwood, I am stuffed (did I mention the ceviche?) and oddly elated. It takes me until I am almost home to figure out that the feeling is relief. I have been reminded that there are people in our community who have the vision, the means and the ability to facilitate change for our environment, and that they are doing so. I’m awash with what could only be called a sense of hope, that penetrates my cynical soul. My mission has become clear. I must find others who are doing the same, if only so that I can feel this good again.
For information on the Compost Club call 707.922.5778 the Vineyards Inn, 707.833.4500; Casa Verde, Phone 707.833.2143.