Vines Vs. RidgeTops….Ridges Win!

Who likes to be told what to do? Who likes to be regulated? Raise your hand.

Exactly as I thought. Neither do I. However, I think one thing is clear. Were we not to regulate ourselves it’s likely we’d be drinking spoiled water, driving death traps and we’d be reading about open space in our history books.

More regulation is about to come to the Sonoma County wine industry, regulation driven by environmental conservation and preservation. This time it concerns timber-lands on the Sonoma Coast where vineyard plantings have picked up over the past few years. The number of vineyards that have replaced Redwood trees, Douglas Fir stands and other timberland is not a huge number. But the cool region that has proven quite special for the cultivation of Pinot Noir in particular is in the sights of the vineyardists and wineries.

The problem for the Pinot Noir growers comes in the form of a community of VERY committed environmentalists who inhabit this region in great numbers. They see the vineyard incursion coming from a number of angles but most particularly in the form of "Preservation Ranch". This is a proposed development by Premium Pacific Vineyards of 2000 acres of vineyards mainly on hills and ridge-tops where trees will be stripped away to make way for vines. They bought a total of 20,000 acres and have said they plan to restore 18,000 to timberland.

Those opposing this project as well as most vineyard development in the area and that will displace timberland are generally concerned about the environmental affects of vineyards and particularly concerned about the lost of ancient stands of trees as well as timberland. Heading up the opposition is a newly formed organization calling themselves "Friends of Gualala River". They’ve done a good job of getting out in front of this issue and of convincing Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors to do something about it.

Next month the Board will vote to impose much more stringent regulations on the planting of vineyards on Sonoma Coast’s timber-lands. The proposal as currently written does not satisfy Friends of Gualala River." It’s not stringent enough. But there’s still lobbying to do…on both sides of the issue.

All that said, here’s what I know for sure: Given the opportunity, wineries and grapegrowers would happily and eventually rip out every tree on the Sonoma Coast and plant it for Pinot Noir. We’d lose what is a remarkable and unique ecosystem. But we’d have lots of yummy Pinot.

Grapegrowers and winemakers are not bad people. They are in fact among the most environmentally conscious people on the planet. But, in the end, they are people who, not given limits, would push aside whatever is in their way in pursuit of the grape. They are not unlike environmentalists. Without limits placed upon the environmentalists’ desires we’d find ourselves living in conditions akin to 1820 and human progress would be stopped as a matter of policy.

However, this time the environmentalists have it right. This is remarkable land. There’s room for vineyards out on the Sonoma Coast, but it should be extraordinarily difficult to develop it.

Posted In: Wine Business


One Response

  1. JD - January 24, 2006

    This is a tough issue because, as you said, there are good guys on both sides. But your summary nails it. I’m all in favor of as much great pinot noir as possible, but the community and state have a right, an obligation, to set aside some minimal portion of that which is the foundation for the character of the area, not to mention its ecological integrity. Just saying, come on guys, let’s find a balanced approach.

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