Same Issue, Different Tree

It’s déjà vu all over again. Only the trees are different.

Back in 1996, Sonoma County-based wine giant Kendall-Jackson secured the permits needed to remove 843 venerable oak trees from property it had purchased in Santa Barbara County.

The reason: K-J wanted to use that land for what it does best: to grow winegrapes.

Seemingly in the blink of an eye, those trees were gone.

It was not the first time a winery had chopped down trees to make way for vines. But this time, because those trees were situated adjacent to a major thoroughfare, people noticed. Lots of people. And many of them screamed.

But the deed had been done, and there was no going back—not for those 843 trees, anyway.

To its credit, K-J heard the words of the environmentalists, and between 1996 and 2007, it planted around 10,000 oak trees. It also has jumped on the sustainability bandwagon, joining countless California wineries in becoming better stewards of the land on which they grow their grapes.

Now, a similar controversy is flaring much closer to K-J’s home base in Sonoma County. Only this time, the trees are not oaks; they’re redwoods and Douglas firs. And the “numbers” are much higher. Rather than 843 trees, we’re talking about 2,000 acres of trees.

The principals in the proposal are Codorniu and Premier Pacific Vineyards.

Codorniu, a Spain-based wine company that operates the Artesa winery in Napa Valley, wants to plant additional grapes so it can increase production and, theoretically, improve the quality of its wines.

Premier Pacific Vineyards wants to not only plant additional vines for growing Pinot Noir grapes, but also to build 60 “high-end estates” on its adjacent Preservation Ranch property.

Environmentalists and others are fighting the proposals, and not just because of the danger to the redwood and Douglas fir trees. The land being eyed for the new vineyard plantings (and estates) is in a remote coastal town called Annapolis—perhaps the most pristine part of Sonoma County.

On the one hand, you have the wineries, which point out that the area has the ideal climate for growing world-class Pinot Noir.

On the other hand, you have environmentalists like Chris Poehlmann, who appeared at one Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting dressed as a 7-foot-tall wine bottle.

Poehlmann told the Los Angeles Times, “We are not going to let them rip these trees out by their roots, change the soil chemistry with amendments and develop neighborhoods so that these forests will never grow back.”

Addressing the environmental concerns, the developers have promised to add more than 200 acres to a county park, restore streams and plant 1 million redwoods and Douglas firs.

If history is any indication, it’s a debate that’s likely to get nasty before it’s resolved.

We’d like to know what you think about the Annapolis proposal. The comment box below awaits. Let’s keep the discussion issue-focused and civil—unlike some of the upcoming Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meetings figure to be.


Posted in Wine and the Environment
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