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Wine on Deck, Wind at Your Back

Circumnavigator wants to transport green wines with sailpower

by Jane Firstenfeld
Solar sailing
Condessa sails up Sonoma's Petaluma River, solar panel on the bow.
San Francisco, Calif. -- A local sailor hopes to lure "green" wineries with a new business that's as ancient as wine itself. Clark Beek tested the waters for his new venture, Wine By Sail, at last week's Green Wine Summit in Santa Rosa, Calif. A novice to the wine industry, but a veteran mariner who has circumnavigated the globe in his 40-foot ketch "Condessa," Beek hopes to transport cases of sustainably produced wine from Sonoma and Napa wineries to retail destinations across San Francisco Bay, using sail power to maintain the greenest possible footprint.

As Beek explained the plan to Wines & Vines, he'd sail Condessa up the Petaluma River in Sonoma County, or to the Napa Valley Yacht Club on the Napa River, where nearby wineries would load a few cases of their organic, Biodynamic or sustainably produced wines on board to be delivered directly to Pier 39 or the Ferry Building in San Francisco, Jack London Square in Oakland, Sausalito or Tiburon in Marin County or similar waterfront destinations. The wines would bear special labels, proclaiming them "Wines By Sail." This, Beek suggested, could be as simple as a post-bottling line sticker, and would add only minimally to the cost of the wines.

Clark Beek
Clark Beek, captain of Condessa and founder of Wine By Sail.
Condessa can feasibly carry a 56-case pallet, perhaps up to 100 cases of wine. "It's weight more than size," Beek explained. With a draft of under 6-feet, the two-master can easily navigate the two rivers, which are maintained at sufficient depth by the Army Corps of Engineers. He's tried both routes, and although Condessa does have an auxiliary motor, "The only time I had to use it was while waiting for the drawbridge to go up in the Napa River," he said.

The plan for Wine By Sail also includes a tourism component. Beek proposes to carry up to six paying passengers in either direction, pairing the wines and locally-produced food along the way; ample provisions will be essential, since the 55 mile Pier 39-Napa trip takes about seven hours on a rising tide (tide flow can add as much as 2 knots to Condessa's top 7-knot speed).

Beek was inspired to undertake this venture by an article in the UK's Guardian last spring, which detailed a shipment of 60,000 bottles from Languedoc to Ireland. The article claimed that the voyage, in a 19th century three-masted barque, saved 18,375 pounds of carbon over "traditional" modern transportation modes.

He's hoping to cash in on North Coast producers' efforts both to become more sustainable, and to capitalize on that with environment-conscious consumers who appreciate the effort. He said that many wineries in Sonoma and Napa are close to his intended courses: "Carneros is a real sweet spot."

His first foray at the Green Wine Summit did not net him any firm client commitments, and he acknowledged that none are likely to be forthcoming until after the holidays. "I did get a lot of interest," he said. "It's the way the wind is blowing." Ideally, Beek would like to have wines delivered to Condessa without using fossil fuel, although, he acknowledged, it might take "some serious sweating and hand trucking."

He conceded, too, that, "I'm not sure who my customers are yet: wineries, marketing agents, merchandisers," but obviously, Beek is not afraid of getting his feet wet. "The best case scenario is we could become an institution. The worst case? It could be a good marketing stunt. Every time we make a trip down with a load of wine, it's an occasion for a party."

Wine club bonus, anyone? Beek hopes to launch Wine By Sail early in 2009. Contact him at (415) 948-0118 or His website, still a work-in-progress, is
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