Tag Archives: wine industry

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

Wineries’ impact brings taste of bitterness to Sonoma campaign

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

A supervisors race between two liberal candidates in Sonoma County has turned into a good ol’ Wine Country brawl amid fear that the region is too quickly transforming into a pricey, water-sucking theme park for the almighty grape.

The tug-of-war over the seat being vacated by disgraced Supervisor Efren Carrillo is billed by some as a choice between forests and vineyards, farmlands and event centers, conservation and industry.

But the election pitting organic farmer Lynda Hopkins against former state Sen. Noreen Evans for supervisor of the Fifth District, which covers western Sonoma County, including the entire coastline, is more complicated than that.

Both candidates purport to want the same thing — to protect the environment, particularly the Russian River; create affordable housing to counter skyrocketing prices; improve roads and other infrastructure; and prevent the county from turning into a wine monoculture.

The argument over which candidate can achieve those things has turned into a mud-slinging imbroglio, mainly over the alleged influence of special-interest groups.

At stake, if you believe the two candidates, is the future of bucolic Sonoma County, which has seen an explosion of winery development and a population increase of almost 4 percent since 2010.

“The major issue is the influence of wineries and agriculture,” said Ernie Carpenter, a former supervisor who is supporting Evans. “We are having a corporate buyout of many old family vineyards and wineries.”

Evans and her supporters say Hopkins is bankrolled by mineral extractors, real estate developers, and dozens of vineyard and winery owners worried about the government restricting tourist-friendly projects that would, in turn, clog already over-tapped roads.

Read more at: Wineries’ impact brings taste of bitterness to Sonoma campaign

Filed under Sustainable Living

Sonoma County limits on wine industry in the works

Padi Selwyn and Judith Olney, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

With 447 wineries and tasting rooms outside city limits with 60 more in the pipeline, we have reached a tipping point. Since 2000, there has been a 300% increase in the number of wineries built, exceeding the General Plan assumption of 239 wineries by 2020.

More info at preserveruralsonomacounty.org

Last month’s winery events study session by the Board of Supervisors was a step in the right direction, as local officials try to balance wine industry interests with a growing backlash by concerned citizens. Property owners expressed concerns that environmental degradation, unruly crowds, loud noise, traffic safety issues and congestion on narrow roads are destroying tranquil rural character and contributing to the Napafication of Sonoma County.

But it’s clear that this is going to be a long process, with new ordinances projected for by Spring 2017. There are many more meetings to be held, and input by the Planning Commission needed. Meanwhile, the wine industry continues lobbying for fewer restrictions, while the overflow crowd of concerned citizens in attendance sent a clear message to county officials that it’s time to rein in winery development and limit the number of promotional events.

As an example, the wine industry continues to advocate that the county categorize events by attendees or by sponsor. Unfortunately, merely labeling a dinner-dance as a “distributor meeting” does not reduce the noise, long duration drinking, or the potential of impaired drivers on rural one-lane roads. This re-naming of high impact promotional and hospitality uses – such as winemaker lunches or dinners – as “tasting room or business activities”, is a thinly veiled attempt to exempt these events, food service and accommodations from environmental review and use permit conditions required to reduce the impacts to less than significant.

Read more at: Sonoma County Limits on Wine Industry in the Works

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Transportation

Winemaker Paul Hobbs buys a prized piece of Sonoma Coast 

Tim Fish, WINE SPECTATOR.COM

Winemaker Paul Hobbs has purchased the 42-acre Goldrock Ridge Vineyard in the isolated hills of the Sonoma Coast. The sale price was not disclosed, but vineyards in the region sell for as much as $200,000 an acre.

Located near the village of Annapolis, the vineyard is about five miles from the Pacific Ocean and is set on a rolling hilltop at an elevation of 550 feet. Planted to 38 acres of Pinot Noir and 4 acres of Chardonnay, the vineyard previously sold grapes to Patz & Hall and MacRostie wineries, as well as Hobbs.

“Finding a vineyard like Goldrock Ridge is like finding a rare diamond,” Hobbs said in a statement, calling the purchase, “a pillar for our future.”

Considered part of the “true Sonoma Coast,” to distinguish it from the larger appellation with that name, the remote region in northwest Sonoma County is highly regarded by Pinot Noir producers. However, new vineyard development is scarce because of the rugged terrain, lack of water and environmental restrictions, making already-planted land appealing. (Hobbs himself has wrestled with vineyard development disputes in Sonoma).

The previous owner of Goldrock Ridge, CalPERS, the powerful state workers pension fund, sparked controversy in the region in 2012 with a plan to convert nearly 2,000 acres of timberland to vineyards. Since that deal fell through in 2013, CalPERS has been divesting itself from land holdings in recent years.

Hobbs owns numerous vineyards including Edward James, Ellen Lane, Katherine Lindsay and Ross Station in the Russian River Valley and Nathan Coombs in Napa Valley’s Coombsville area. In addition to his California brands Paul Hobbs and CrossBarn, the winemaker is an active consultant in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, France, Canada and Armenia

Read more at: Winemaker Paul Hobbs Buys a Prized Piece of Sonoma Coast | News | News & Features | Wine Spectator

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sonoma Coast

Oak woodlands and wine

Eric Biber, LEGAL PLANET

A recent controversy highlights the impacts of wine industry on native California oak woodlandsA popular San Luis Obispo county winemarker is suffering a backlash in restaurants after press reports that the winemaker bulldozed oak woodlands to expand production—possibly in violation of a county land grading ordinance.

The dispute (as this Wine Enthusiast piece makes clear) is not a novel one.  There is a long history of winemakers in California converting oak woodlands to vineyards, with potentially substantial impacts on native species habitat.

Conversion of oak woodlands to agricultural use is, in fact, one of the areas where state environmental law does not provide much protection.  Conversion of coniferous forests is covered by the California Forest Practices Act, which imposes regulatory requirements on conversion of timberlands to other uses. Conversion of oak woodlands to other uses besides agricultural uses requires review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for conversion activities.  Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21083.4.  CEQA requires not just a public review of the potential environmental impacts of those conversions, but may also require mitigation of those impacts. However, there is an exemption in this CEQA provision for conversion to agricultural uses.

There are two main ways in which oak woodlands might still receive some protection from conversion to agricultural uses.

First, if federally or state listed endangered animal species are present, then federal or state endangered species protections might apply.  If state listed endangered plant species are present, then the habitat might also be protected from conversion—though there is some uncertainty about the scope of these protections, and whether agricultural conversions are fully covered by them.  However, many oak woodlands are not habitat for any listed federal or state species.

Second, if a local government imposes some sort of discretionary restriction on land conversion—such as requiring planning commission review of conversion of oak woodlands to agricultural uses—then CEQA would apply to that review process.  Of course, that depends on local governments imposing restrictions on land conversion to agricultural uses, something that varies greatly from county to county.  (For instance, San Luis Obispo County apparently does not protect oak woodlands.)

Oak woodlands are an important and threatened component of the natural heritage of California—and can be habitat for a wide range of native species.   Yet they have been significantly damaged by agricultural conversion, particularly for wine.  California native oaks—already under attack by a rapidly expanding disease epidemic—may face even greater threats in the future.  If non-medical commerce in marijuana is legalized by the voters this fall, we might see substantial expansion of marijuana cultivation at the expense of California’s oaks.    It may be time for the state legislature to look at stronger protections for them.

Source: Oak woodlands and wine | Legal Planet

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

Sonoma County supervisors signal support for limits on wineries, events

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A majority of Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday voiced support for new regulations on one of the largest sectors of the local economy — wine-related tourism — a move that signals the likelihood the wine industry will face greater county scrutiny and potential limits on new development and business activity.

The consensus came about during a first-of-its-kind four-hour study session on the growth of the county’s signature industry. Supervisors agreed the county needs to act, citing widespread concern among residents about the increase in wineries that double as event centers and commercial impacts on roads, resources and the character of rural areas.

“I grew up in Dry Creek Valley. I’ve been to weddings and parties at vineyards, but it’s a different day now,” said Supervisor James Gore, who represents the north county, including Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. “This is from a guy who people say is owned by the wine industry.”

Supervisors Susan Gorin, Efren Carrillo and David Rabbitt joined Gore in calling for crackdowns on wineries found to be holding unauthorized events, with Gore and Rabbitt calling for a so-called “three-strikes” rule for wineries that repeatedly break the rules.

All four said they also are concerned about the cumulative impacts of winery development, and an increase in events in recent years that has worsened traffic, drained water supplies and added noise in rural neighborhoods. Of the 447 wineries and tasting rooms outside city limits, 291 sites are allowed to host events.

The next move could include the drafting of new regulations that could limit such activities in the future, while balancing the needs of the wine industry. Planning commissioners and supervisors would need to sign off on any final rules.

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors signal support for limits on wineries, events | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Transportation

Emergency ordinance to protect oak trees to be considered by San Luis Obispo supervisors

Lindsey Holden, THE SAN LUIS OBISPO TRIBUNE

The site where oaks and steep slopes were cleared for a vineyard is a 315-acre parcel at 750 Sleepy Farm Road owned by Estate Vinyards LLC, a subsidiary of the multinational Wonderful Co. — Justin Vineyards is one of the company’s brands.

Oaks are more than just trees in North County — to many, they’re a crucial part of the Central Coast’s delicate, drought-ridden ecosystem.

On Tuesday, that was the message dozens of farmers, residents and environmentalists delivered to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors as they protested the recent clear-cutting of hundreds — some speakers said thousands, based on their own investigations — of oak trees on land managed by Justin Vineyards & Winery, just west of Paso Robles.

Supervisors responded by taking the first steps toward adopting the county’s first-ever tree protection ordinance.

“There are people out there right now probably sharpening their chainsaws,” said Diane Burkhart, who presented the board with a petition signed by about 400 people requesting protections for oak trees.

The site under fire is a 315-acre parcel at 750 Sleepy Farm Road owned by Estate Vinyards LLC, a subsidiary of the multinational Wonderful Co. — Justin is one of the company’s brands.

After neighbors protested the tree removals and construction of a large water-storage pond on the property, the county issued a stop-work order on June 9. Officials said they’re evaluating potential penalties for grading violations, but not tree removal because the county has no oak protection ordinance in unincorporated areas.

After hearing more than an hour of often emotional public comments Tuesday from residents, supervisors said they were ready to move ahead after decades of false starts on oak ordinances.

Read more at: Emergency ordinance to protect oak trees to be considered by supervisors | The Tribune

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use