August 8-14, 2007

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By Patricia Lynn Henley

Roving porpoise

A lot of visitors drive or fly into the Napa Valley, but one recently swam in. From July 30 to Aug. 4, excited onlookers reported a number of startling sightings in the Napa River. Based on a photograph, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito confirms that at least one juvenile or small adult harbor porpoise is plying that waterway. Since the cetacean tourist appears calm and unharmed, the marine center has a wait-and-see attitude. "Unless the animal is injured or in distress, we can't take any action," explains center spokeswoman Mieke Eerkens. Although river water might not be the ideal environment, harbor porpoises can live in both fresh and salt water. Under federal law, it's illegal for humans to feed this watery guest or to get closer to it than 100 yards.

Wineries sold

There was a flurry of sales in the wine country at the end of last month. It wasn't bottles changing hands, either--it was entire wineries, with three major deals in two days. On July 31, the investment firm GI Partners reportedly paid an estimated $250 million for Duckhorn Wine Company, a collection of small estates focused on site-specific wines in the Napa and Anderson valleys. The day before, Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Company of Washington and Marchese Piero Antinori of Italy partnered to pay $185 million for Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, which made wine-industry history in 1976 when its Cabernet Sauvignon emerged victorious in a pivotal blind winetasting against famed French vintages. Included in the sale are the Silverado Trail winery and more than 150 acres of prime Napa Valley vineyards. Also on July 30, EJ Gallo bought the William Hill Estate and the 45-acre Silverado Bench vineyard for an undisclosed amount.

Water-less lessons

With the state mandating summertime water conservation in Sonoma and north Marin counties, the College of Marin is making an extremely timely addition to its Indian Valley campus: an outdoor Water Management and Education Center. "Indian Valley offers an extraordinary space to teach and demonstrate state-of-the-art-strategies in the design, installation and maintenance of sustainable landscapes and irrigation systems," says College of Marin president Frances L. White. At the groundbreaking ceremony, officials dug up grass between the Pomo and Miwok buildings. Removing the lawn illustrates a first step in water conservation. This summer, local landscapers had a chance to attend workshops on water efficiency, and in the fall environmental landscape students will survey and work on the site.

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