Tag Archives: wine industry

A growing Sonoma bursts at its seams

Patrick Hoge, SAN FRANCISCO MAGAZINE

Wine tourism: booming. Mass transit: zooming. Big cannabis: looming. For a once-quiet agricultural region, Sonoma is suddenly an economic engine. And not everybody’s loving the noise.

Liza Hinman lives in two Sonoma County worlds on the same continuum. In one, she is cofounder and chef of the Spinster Sisters, a hip, fun, homey restaurant bringing life and house-made granola parfaits to a formerly run-down part of Santa Rosa. She’s part of a vanguard of entrepreneurial Sonomans who are catering to both locals and tourists through the unifying power of good eating, good drinking, and smartly designed community spaces. In the other world, Hinman, as a mother of three and the wife of a Sonoma native, is unsettled by the changes that have overtaken her hometown of Healdsburg, a once-dilapidated agricultural town of almost 12,000 with a quaint central plaza that has utterly transformed in the last 15 years into a crowded, swanky destination for affluent out-of-towners and second-home owners.

In one world, increased tourism and a well-earned Michelin recommendation are boons for Hinman, a rosy-cheeked, smock-wearing 40-year-old with a broad smile and a gifted touch with locally grown foods. In the other, she finds herself conflicted, avoiding Healdsburg’s downtown of pricey restaurants, clothing stores, and art galleries because of traffic and lack of parking, and shaking her head at the area’s 30—30!—wine tasting rooms. “It’s the ad nauseam conversation that we all have as more and more tourists and Bay Area people discover us,” Hinman says, proffering some of her signature deviled eggs. An East Coast transplant who got her professional start studying and cooking in San Francisco, Hinman knows that it wasn’t long ago that numerous businesses in downtown Healdsburg were shuttered. And she appreciates the tax revenue that supports city services. “It’s our lifeblood here,” she says. “But there has to be a way to find balance, to have a vibrant community for locals and services for tourists.”

Hinman’s contrasting sentiments are echoed across Sonoma County these days, as moneyed visitors from around the world and urban refugees flood into the North Bay in search of the good life. Tourism spending is soaring; hotel and winery development is widespread; and housing prices are climbing fast and approaching an all-time high—all factors that have led to a growing disquiet among longtime valley dwellers. Still a vast Eden of vineyards, restaurants, and resorts, Sonoma maintains a natural beauty and a relatively affordable cost of living that have made it a release valve for the over-pressurized Bay Area. But this restfulness has been disturbed by new strains of anxiety that Sonoma’s laid-back feel, small-town charms, and country roads are being trammeled by too many outsiders with too much cash.

Read more at: San Francisco Magazine | Modern Luxury | A Growing Sonoma Bursts at its Seams

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Op-Ed: Sonoma County needs a more honest plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions

Jerry Bernhaut, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Our lawsuit has overturned the Climate Action Plan as a basis for enabling new development with inadequate greenhouse gas mitigations. It has not prevented the cities or the county from proceeding with greenhouse gas reduction measures in the plan.

The basic issue in the lawsuit that overturned the approval of the Sonoma County Climate Action Plan was the failure to account for emissions from vehicle miles traveled in the global distribution of wine and other products and travel to tourist destinations in the county from around the world.

In a recent article (“Battling climate change at the local level,” Aug. 11), Supervisor David Rabbitt made the following claims:

1) The lawsuit argued for a growth moratorium for wine and tourism. A moratorium is not enforceable.

What we actually called for was consideration of a moratorium or significant limitation on new wineries/vineyard expansions and/or tourist destinations to provide an adequate assessment of feasible measures to reduce Sonoma County’s greenhouse gas emissions. State law allows a county or city to adopt an interim ordinance prohibiting any uses that may be in conflict with a plan or proposal the city or county intends to study. The statute allows an interim ordinance of 45 days with provisions for extensions to a total of about two years.

We were advocating for just such a measure to evaluate some controls on additional growth in high emissions land uses. We argued this was a legitimate request for relevant information under the California Environmental Quality Act. The court agreed. The simple reality is that an economy dominated by global tourism and production for global export generates enormous travel-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more at: Close to Home: Sonoma County needs a more honest plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Transportation

Agency won’t appeal successful legal challenge of Sonoma County climate action plan

Jerry Bernhaut, the lead attorney for River Watch, said his client did not want to block the entirety of the regional climate plan, which he said contained some “perfectly valid measures” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“There’s nothing stopping the cities and the unincorporated county from going ahead with measures that were described in the climate action plan,” Bernhaut said. “The legal force of the climate action plan is now null and void.”

But stronger, substantive progress would require a more dramatic reshaping of an economic system that includes international product distribution and a “tourist industry on steroids” where people travel from all over the world, Bernhaut said.

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A settlement reached between Sonoma County’s regional climate agency and a Sebastopol environmental group with a history of suing local governments has left the countywide plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions legally toothless.

Under terms of the settlement with California River Watch, the county’s Regional Climate Protection Authority agreed this week not to challenge a court decision that struck down the environmental document underpinning its blueprint for fighting climate change.

A Sonoma County judge sided this summer with River Watch, which sued the agency and argued its climate plan did not properly account for emissions generated outside county borders, including from tourism and the wine industry.

Read more at: Agency won’t appeal successful legal challenge of Sonoma County climate action plan | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County vineyards want to build bunkhouses for more than 170 seasonal farmworkers

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Eyeing both the region’s persistent lack of affordable homes and the more recent labor shortage in its signature wine industry, Sonoma County is advancing plans for five vineyards to build housing for more than 170 farmworkers.

The Board of Supervisors will consider authorizing agreements Tuesday for two 37-bed bunkhouses that would shelter workers at vineyards in the Geyserville area. If approved, the agreements would follow similar plans supervisors signed off on last month to bring bunkhouses with nearly 100 total beds for farmworkers near Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Annapolis.

“We certainly have a labor shortage in Sonoma County, but I think that’s an effect of a housing shortage — there’s not enough affordable housing,” said Cameron Mauritson, vineyard manager for Mauritson Farms, which will host one of the bunkhouses.“

The way we saw it is we didn’t have a choice: We can’t not have people here to get the work done, but if they can’t afford to live here, then we have to figure out as a business how to make sure that we can control some housing that our employees live in.

”The bunkhouses are targeted for workers hired through the federal government’s H-2A program, which allows the agriculture industry to employ foreign guest workers for jobs that last as long as 10 months. Local grape growers have increasingly turned to the program as a way to address a short supply of available vineyard labor, hiring about 300 workers through H-2A this year, but employers have to provide housing in order to participate.

Read more at: Sonoma County vineyards want to build bunkhouses for more than 170 seasonal farmworkers | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners 

Alastair Bland, GREENBIZ

Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.

“They want to take all of this out,” said Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she said.

Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.

In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” said Hackett.

“Napa is getting really carved up,” said Adina Merenlender, a conservation biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who began studying the ecological impacts of vineyard conversions in the 1990s. “We see it all over the western and eastern ridges — it’s been relentless.” The transformation of shrub, oak and conifer habitat into new vineyards threatens wildlife migration corridors, she said. “We’re down to the final pinch points,” said Merenlender, referring to narrow corridors that eventually could become functionally severed from the relatively expansive wilderness areas in the mountains north of Napa County.

Federal fisheries scientists also have expressed concerns that the wine industry is harming endangered populations of steelhead trout. The creeks flowing off the hills of Napa County are critical to remnant populations of steelhead and salmon, and biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) say the irrigation of vineyards has reduced stream flows and clogged waterways with eroded soils. “Extensive water diversions, groundwater pumping, and increased agriculture (vineyards) water use during the dry season have reduced the extent of suitable summer rearing habitat  … throughout much of the Napa River watershed,” NMFS scientists wrote in the Napa River chapter (PDF) of a 2016 report.

Read more at: In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners | GreenBiz

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, Water, Wildlife

Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections

J.D. MORRIS, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors signaled Tuesday that it would approve a new winery in Knights Valley, advancing a long-planned 10,000-case facility despite concerns from residents worried about how the project would impact the rural area, particularly its limited groundwater supplies.

After a nearly three-hour hearing, supervisors unanimously agreed to move the Knights Bridge Winery proposal forward, indicating the board intends to deny a request from residents who wanted the county to require another layer of environmental review.

The board directed county staff to bring the winery’s use permit back for a formal vote Sept. 19, incorporating several conditions proposed by Supervisor James Gore, who represents Knights Valley.

“There’s one thing everybody has in common, which is this beautiful place,” Gore said at the hearing’s outset. “It’s absolutely gorgeous and pristine, and it’s a place that deserves protection and deserves the highest level of review for projects, too.”

The most significant of Gore’s conditions would solidify a pledge made by the winery’s proponents that the project would offset any additional groundwater use, a key concern of residents opposed to the winery, slated for a roughly 86-acre site on Spencer Lane about a mile west of Highway 128. The property’s net demand on its well — half the acreage is planted in vineyards — was previously estimated at about 162,900 gallons per year.

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Water

In wine regions, vineyards and conservationists battle for the hills

Alastair Bland, YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions, and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.

“They want to take all of this out,” says Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she says.

Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it that are now pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.

In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County, and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists, and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” says Hackett.

Read more at: In Napa Valley, Vineyards and Conservationists Battle for the Hills – Yale E360

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Habitats, Land Use, Sonoma Coast, Water, Wildlife

Walt Ranch: Water concerns arise from Napa area vineyard’s plan to fell 14,000 oaks

Alastair Bland, NEWS DEEPLY

Residents are concerned that plans to cut down 14,000 oak trees to make way for grapevines will impact groundwater, fish habitat and climate change mitigation.

In the small community of Circle Oaks, California, a few miles east of the wine-soaked Napa Valley, residents are fuming over a wealthy Texas couple’s plans to cut down 14,000 adult oak trees and replant the cleared woodland with 209 acres (85 hectares) of irrigated grapevines. The project, opponents warn, will destroy fish and wildlife habitat, reduce the environment’s resilience to climate change, and drain groundwater reserves.

“They’re going to be using about two times the water our community uses,” says Ron Tamarisk, who has lived in the small town of Circle Oaks with his wife, Nancy, since the 1960s. Tamarisk says the community’s wells have never run dry before, but locals are concerned the proposed vineyard will deplete their supply.

“This is going to dewater Milliken Creek,” says Chris Malan, who lives in a rural unincorporated area just east of the city of Napa and very close to the project site. She is referring to a stream that feeds Milliken Reservoir, from which the city of Napa receives water.

The couple behind the project, Craig Hall and Kathryn Walt Hall, are already well established in the local wine industry. Craig Hall, who has led a career in Texas as a real estate developer, told Dallas News in 2014 that he expected to sell as much as $50 million in wines in 2015, mainly through the couple’s Hall and Walt wine labels. Now, he and his wife’s new project, first introduced in 2006, is on the verge of becoming reality. The proposal to expand their Walt Ranch vineyard was approved in December by Napa County’s board of supervisors.

Locals are outraged by the county’s lenience toward the wine industry in general, which many sources claim exerts political influence over county decision making.

“If this project goes through, it establishes a precedent that a rich newcomer can come in and get their way,” says Randy Dunn, a resident of the small town of Angwin, in the hills northeast of Napa. Dunn is also a winemaker. He grows 35 acres of grapes, mostly cabernet, and says he felled a single oak tree to plant his current vines in the mid-1990s.

The Walt Ranch developers initially planned to cut down almost 30,000 trees. They downsized the plan last year in response to general opposition and to questions about the legality of how the new vines would be irrigated. There was talk for a time of pumping in water from another watershed entirely, that of Putah Creek, a Sacramento River tributary.

Read more at: Water Concerns Arise from Napa Area Vineyard’s Plan to Fell — Water Deeply

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, Water

Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Scenic Route” sign on Highway 12 announces the obvious to motorists heading into the Valley of the Moon. It’s cradled by mountains, dotted with giant oaks, horse ranches, vineyards, remnants of old orchards and the odd water tower.

The road delivers inspiring views of imposing Hood Mountain, its craggy face standing sentinel over a historic route from Santa Rosa to Sonoma that carried stagecoaches and trains before the automobile took over.But today, the two-lane highway is crowded with traffic generated by commuters, residential and commercial development, sightseers and visitors headed to wineries and tasting rooms.

winery map, Sonoma Valley

Winery Expansion on Sonoma Highway 12 (Press Democrat, from Sonoma County PRMD, October 2016.)

The northern arm of Sonoma Valley, between Madrone and Melita roads, is home to more than 40 tasting rooms and event centers that each year attract more than 140,000 people to special events. They could be joined by another half-dozen or more tasting rooms and more than 110 annual special events with 20,000 more people if permits in the pipeline previously approved, but not yet built, are exercised.

The burgeoning wine industry and plans for a high-end luxury hotel, spa and winery off La Campagna Lane in Kenwood have especially drawn attention and opposition while highlighting the impact of development along the county’s busiest wine road.

The growth has set off alarms among rural residents concerned about the loss of agricultural land and the vehicles and noise generated by winery events, especially on weekends. They raise the specter of “Napafication,” the fear that roads will become as clogged as in Napa Valley, where traffic on Highway 29 slows to a long crawl on Saturdays and Sundays when visitors stream to the abundant large corporate-owned wineries.

Read more at: Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Tension flares between wineries and residents

 Liza B. Zimmerman, WINE SEARCHER

“Right now, there are some areas of severe over-concentration, i.e. Valley of the Moon, West Side Road and Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg,” notes Padi Selwyn, one of the co-founders of Preserve Rural Sonoma County, an organization advocating to protect the area’s rural character. The County of Sonoma’s general plan had projected 239 wineries in place by the year 2020, yet has approved nearly 500 wineries to date, with more in the pipeline, she adds.

While many wine regions in California have been growing by leaps and bounds, few have developed at the recent pace of Sonoma County.

According to the Santa Rosa, California-based Permit and Resource Development Management Department of Sonoma County, from 2000 to 2015 there was a 300 percent increase in new winery facilities. Sonoma County was home to 127 wineries in 2000 and has nearly 450 now.

More wineries offer a wider spectrum of wine-tasting experiences – food-pairing options and party venues have been attracting more locals, and visitors, along with more traffic and with it sometimes drunk drivers. While winery owners may be thrilled about some of the results, many local residents clearly are not.

The Napa Valley long ago emerged as California’s leading wine region. Careful planning in the region set aside much of the area’s land for agriculture by creating the US’s first Agricultural Preserve in 1968, according to Patsy McGaughy, the St Helena, California-based communications director for the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV).

This pioneering legislation was followed two decades later by the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO), which was enacted in 1990. It has since dictated how many wineries can be open to the public, serve food and number of visitors and events each can host per year.

“The reason Napa became a brand and can command premium value both for wine and for land, pay its workers well and support public services as a result, is because of the genius of the Wine Definition Ordinance, defining wineries as an agricultural use [of the land],” according to Barbara Insel, president and CEO of the Stonebridge Research Group, a wine industry analyst.

While other wine regions have yet to see nearly the same level of consumer interest and have allowed their regions to grow naturally, Santa Barbara hit a snag after the 2004 release of Sideways. The film sent reams of tourists rushing to the area’s wineries and restaurants, and clogged the 5000-resident Danish-themed town of Solvang located in the center of its wine country.

“The tension started after Sideways,” agreed Morgen McLauglin, the executive director or the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association. Locals saw wineries as bringing visitors that clogged roads, caused traffic jams and encouraged drunk drivers. One of the results of that uptick in visitors led to a winery ordinance that the region has been working on for four years. One that McLauglin says is among the most restrictive in terms of the number of tasting rooms permitted.

Read more at: Tension Flares Between Wineries and Residents | Wine News & Features

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living