John Sammon, LEGAL NEWSLINE
Two Sonoma County vintners received a judgment in favor of their proposed wine making operation when an appeal by the Sierra Club was turned back by the state’s 1st Appellate District Court of Appeals.
The court found in favor of the defendants Ronald and Ernest Ohlson, operators of the Ohlson Ranch, who applied for a permit to turn grazing land on their property into a grape vineyard. The Agricultural Commissioner of Sonoma County (commissioner) issued the permit after making a determination the issuance was a “ministerial” act, and therefore exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards.
The commissioner’s decision was challenged by the Sierra Club, Friends of Gualala River and the Center for Biological Diversity, who asked for a writ of mandate, a court order to an agency or court to follow the law by correcting a previous action (issuing the permit).
Before the year 2000, grape growers in Sonoma County could plant vineyards without government review or permission.. Since then, new directives have been added, including submitting plans to address erosion controls, proper grading, drainage and other safeguards.
The Ohlsons filed an application in 2013 to turn 108 acres out of 132 acres of range land into a vineyard. The property included wetlands and marshy depressions but no trees or streams. Erosion was to be controlled by the use of anchoring grass, mulch, filter strips and cover crops.
Read more at: Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit | Legal Newsline
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
Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Among individual species there will [also] be winners and losers. Redwoods are expected to remain stable in the western half of the county, but decline in places more distant from the coast. Douglas fir shows a similar pattern. The biggest loser may be Oregon or Garry oak. The real winner may not be a tree at all, but chamise, a shrubby chaparral species.
To look into the future of forests in Sonoma County requires finding a similar time in the past — or at least one as close as possible. And for that, scientists have turned to studying minute specks of pollen at the bottom of Clear Lake.
“When considering the future of our forests,” says Professor David Ackerly of UC Berkeley, “the closest analogy for the present moment was the warming at the end of the last ice age, 14,000 years ago.” Pollen preserved in sediment at the bottom of Clear Lake recorded a dramatic change at that time from conifer-dominated forests to oak woodland. That transition took place over 4000 years, as temperatures rose about 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Today the Earth is heating up many times faster and, depending on who you talk to, warming over the coming century could match the rise after the ice age. Changes in rainfall are also expected for Sonoma County, although it’s uncertain whether we’ll see more precipitation or less. But even with more rain, warmer overall temperatures may increase evaporation to the point where less water will be available to plants. The timing of rainfall is important, too — a few torrential storms bank less soil moisture than the same amount falling slowly and steadily over the winter months. Soil moisture is an important factor controlling where trees can grow.
In this scenario, the survival of living things depends upon their ability to adjust to the changes more quickly than in the past. Animals are lucky — they can move to other locations; individual trees and plants are stuck to one spot. In the short term, many are already shifting their yearly cycles — the beginning of spring, as marked by budding and flowering, is two weeks earlier than it was 50 years ago. Long-term, trees move between generations, their seeds spread by wind, water, gravity and animals to more suitable places.
Read more at: Sonoma County’s forests face uncertain future | The Press Democrat
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