Alastair Bland, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
Clearcutting for vineyards is nothing new in wine country. Can it be stopped?
This past Oct. 11, in a rare instance of a local politician speaking out publicly against a member of the North Bay’s influential winemaking community, Sonoma County supervisor Efren Carrillo lambasted winemaker Paul Hobbs for uprooting hundreds of trees in Sebastopol and adding one more open wound to a Russian River watershed already impacted by erosion and sediment.
Carrillo called Hobbs "one bad apple," and noted that the globally renowned maker of high-end wines hadn’t bothered to acquire a permit to remove the trees, part of the old Davis Christmas Tree farm, which Hobbs is planning to buy and convert to vines. It was one of three instances this year in which Hobbs has cut down trees to the dismay of onlookers; he leveled 10 acres in Pocket Canyon just east of Guerneville, and eight acres of redwood trees along Highway 116 on land acquired in a court settlement from his neighbor John Jenkel.
"Paul Hobbs has shown a blatant disregard for Sonoma County, its resources, his fellow vintners and community sentiment," Carrillo declared in his editorial, printed in the Sonoma County Gazette.
But local environmentalists feel Carrillo’s outburst needs to be echoed a hundred times over. To Jim Doerksen, who has lived in the Mayacamas Mountains for 44 years and has watched local streams sucked dry as wineries near his property have been built, Carrillo’s words on Hobbs only amplify the silence that nearly all officials have kept toward the local wine industry through years of alleged environmental abuse.
"Efren said Hobbs is ‘one bad apple,’" Doerksen says, "but all we have are bad apples."
Doerksen points straight to his neighbors, whom he charges with illegally cutting down about 60 acres of conifers to plant vineyards. This activity, along with overuse of the area’s groundwater, has virtually destroyed Mark West Creek, a story covered in January in the Bohemian.