Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , , Leave a comment on California’s thirsty wine-grapes

California’s thirsty wine-grapes

In the San Joaquin Valley heartland town of Livingston, located along Highway 99 between Turlock and Merced, the United States’ most lucrative wine corporation, E&J Gallo, operates the world’s largest winery: a place where serried ranks of massive, 200,000-gallon tanks tower over the surrounding countryside, in a compound ringed by security fences.
Were California its own nation, its wine industry would be the world’s fourth largest in terms of revenue. Roughly 570,000 acres in the state are under the vine, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (which chairman, incidentally, was president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers for 13 years). And about half of that acreage is located in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, which operate in conjunction with the area’s enormous industrial wineries.
Much of this grape-based alcohol production is enabled by California’s unparalleled water infrastructure, which transmits water from north to south, thereby turning the arid lands that supply Gallo’s oil refinery-like facility into a bountiful — and profitable — farming region. On the other side of the Coast Ranges, and further north, resides another thirsty portion where the wine industry places inordinate demand on its watersheds.
As the American wine market moved increasingly upscale in the 1990s, Sonoma County emerged as an epicenter of the “premium grape rush” due to its wide variety of favorable microclimates and soils, as well as comparatively low land prices vis-a-vis Napa County to the east. In keeping with the prevailing market trend toward high-end varietal wines, a new division of the Gallo empire — Gallo of Sonoma — amassed a collection of sprawling estates in the verdant hills ranging north to south from Cloverdale to Sonoma.
The Gallo clan aimed not only to remake their company’s image; they were intent on remaking Sonoma County’s physical terrain in that image. Throughout much of the 1990s, Gallo’s fleet of D-9 excavators rumbled across the company’s vast tracts, steel mandibles akimbo, cleaving oaks and pines and Doug firs from their root systems. Gallo owns about 6,000 acres in Sonoma County in all.
Read more at: California’s Thirsty Wine-Grapes | Anderson Valley Advertiser

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , Leave a comment on Judge dismisses legal challenge to Paul Hobbs vineyard

Judge dismisses legal challenge to Paul Hobbs vineyard

A judge has dismissed a challenge to Sonoma County’s approval of the controversial Paul Hobbs Winery vineyard project in Sebastopol, potentially ending a long-running legal dispute between the vintner known for his luxury wines and community activists who contend the 39-acre development poses serious environmental problems.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Gary Nadler on April 29 dismissed the claim by the Watertrough Children’s Alliance that the county erred in approving the vineyard conversion project.
The group argued that the county should have conducted a review under the stringent California Environmental Quality Act, given that schoolchildren could be exposed to pesticides from the new vineyard. Instead, the county used its 15-year-old Vineyard Erosion and Soil Control Ordinance for its review.
The case hinged on the difference between two words. The alliance argued that the project was a “discretionary” conversion under CEQA, but Sonoma County and Hobbs argued that the decision to approve the vineyard project was more “ministerial” and should be exempt from state law.
Nadler agreed with Hobbs and the county, ruling that the county’s actions — including ordering reports, choosing a consultant, inspecting the work and ordering changes — did not demonstrate the permit approval was discretionary.
Read more via: Judge dismisses legal challenge to Paul Hobbs vineyard | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , Leave a comment on Vineyard development levels off on North Coast

Vineyard development levels off on North Coast

Ending five straight years of expansion, new vineyard development leveled off on the North Coast in 2014 as growers turned their attention to replanting existing vineyards.
Figures released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed there were 132,004 acres of vineyards in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties in 2014, a decline of 0.5 percent from 2013’s record-setting 132,697 acres.
More than 3,000 acres were not producing grapes — the most in three years. The vast majority of these vineyards are being replanted and are not yet mature enough to bear fruit. The flurry of replanting is the result of three consecutive bountiful crops, topped by last year’s record $1.46 billion harvest, which have given North Coast growers the financial resources to reinvest in their vineyards.
“There’s a lot of replanting of vineyards going on,” said Sonoma County Agriculture Commissioner Tony Linegar. “This has happened over the last several years.”
Sonoma County had 59,974 acres of vineyards, a 0.4 percent decrease from the 2013 record, according to the USDA. But non-bearing vineyards increased 13 percent, to 1,014 acres.
Read more via Vineyard expansion levels off on North Coast | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , , Leave a comment on Hobbs vineyard conversion headed to court

Hobbs vineyard conversion headed to court

Paul Hobbs is making news in the West County again, as, on the heels of a $100,000 settlement with Sonoma County over questionable vineyard conversion practices, a lawsuit filed against the winemaker and the county by a group of parents in the Twin Hills Union School District will head to court.
A hearing will take place on March 2 at 9 a.m. in department 17 at 3035 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa.
The lawsuit, filed in December 2013 by the Watertrough Children’s Alliance, alleges that the county failed in its oversight duties by issuing a permit for the transformation of a 48-acre apple orchard into 39 acres of grape vines.
“This is a major project and it should have a CEQA review. It’s a huge manipulation of the environment. Why shouldn’t it require CEQA?” WCA attorney Paul Carroll said. “It’s been applied to much smaller projects. Thirty-eight acres is a huge project right next to a school. Hobbs shouldn’t get a free ride.”
But the ride has not been exactly free for the internationally known vintner who has had his share of run-ins with regulatory agencies over several West County vineyard conversion projects.
On Feb. 2, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office announced a $100,000 settlement with Hobbs over a civil environmental complaint filed on May 28, 2014, focused on conversion projects that took place from 2011 to 2013.
Read more via Hobbs conversion headed to court – Sonoma West Times and News: News.