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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Orchards to Vineyards = Food to Wine

When is One Vineyard/Winery Too Much?

By Vesta Copestakes
Most of the time no one pays attention to another apple orchard being plowed up and replaced by vineyards. We’ve become used to it over time as the apple trees get old and need to be replaced. Landowners decide – food or wine. Apples are less lucrative than grapes for many reasons. With the import of apple juice from China, even our “fall” apples have no place to go and therefore rot on the ground.

But recently, grapes are suffering the same fate as grape growers find insufficient markets for their grapes. Perhaps there are too many vineyards. It could be more than a down economy.

In Sebastopol there’s a battle going on between the Best Family and neighbors at the intersection of Hwy 116 and Occidental Road. The Best Family wants a winery and grape processing facility while neighbors want to maintain the life they know. Which party gets what they want will be the subject of a Board of Supervisors hearing on October 20th*. Expect a packed hearing room because there are many people with opinions on this one.

Here in America, we have a sense of entitlement about the land we own. It’s ours, and therefore ours to do with as we please. But the only way that truly works is if your land is someplace no one else cares about, or your plans will have no impact on your neighbors and the environment. At the busy intersection in question, the Best Family plans impact everyone.

There was a time when this intersection had no traffic light. People on Occidental Road would “white-knuckle-it” across 116 to get to the other side. Numerous accidents and deaths forced the county to add turn lanes and a traffic signal. The intersection now even has a gas station. Large trucks are a way of life, and even before intersection improvements, having an apple packing plant on the corner meant seasonal truck traffic.

So what’s the problem?

Take a look east and west as you stand on Hwy 116 and you’ll see nothing but vineyards as far as your eye can see. This used to be “apple country” and what you saw were orchards. Before that it was peaches and prunes. These hills have been growing agricultural products for many decades. Our soil and climate are made for growing.

The only difference is that what used to grow here was food we could eat for nourishment. These grapes are not table grapes…they are wine grapes. Much of that wine is “high-end,” which means that the majority of people never get to taste it. It’s a recreational alcoholic beverage. These grapes cannot benefit society the way those nutritious apples used to do.

Over and over there are hearings at the Board of Supervisors meetings about land decisions. Develop or not develop. Save the Tiger Salamander and Coho Salmon or build a park and pipeline. Divert water from the river for thirsty people or conserve. One hearing and decision after another on projects that impact our lives for decades. It’s easy to get caught up in this process project by project…decision by decision. Every now and then we need to stand back and “look at the BIG picture.”

The Best Family project proposal is one of hundreds of decisions we need to make. And every one of them needs to be evaluated in the context of a larger view of our lives.

Is this intersection a good place to put in another winery and processing facility? Maybe…maybe not. How about asking ourselves if it’s a good idea to keep replacing food with wine on prime agricultural land.

If you want to weigh in on this project decision, write your supervisors or attend the hearing on October 20th.* They want to know how this proposed project will impact your life.

*UPDATE – 10-14-09
2:10 A hearing to consider proposed amendments to the Sonoma County General Plan consisting of the following (Cont.):

2. File No.: PLP08 0029
Env. Doc.: Mitigated Negative Declaration
Description: Request for: 1) a General Plan Land Use Amendment from the RR
(Rural Residential) 4 acres per dwelling unit to the DA (Diverse Agriculture) 10 acres per dwelling unit zoning designation or other appropriate designation, 2) a General Plan Amendment to add a new Planning Area policy, 3) a Zone Change from AR (Agricultural and Residential) B6 4 acre density, SR (Scenic Resources) to the DA B6 10 acre density, SR district or other appropriate district, and 4) a Use Permit for a winery with a maximum annual production capacity of 26,500 cases to include a public tasting room open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m., with retail sales and a total of 12 marketing dinners and/or luncheons per year with a maximum of 40 guests per event on two parcels totaling 7.61 acres. Dinners are to be held in the evenings until 10:00 p.m., and luncheons are to be held during tasting room hours. The winery also proposes to participate in industry wide events.
Location: 2065 Hwy 116 North, Sebastopol
Sup. Dist.: Dist. #5

Contact Information:
County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors
575 Administration Drive, Room 100A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
(707) 565-2241
FAX (707) 565-3778

E-Mail addresses:
1st District - Valerie Brown

2nd District - Mike Kerns

3rd District - Shirlee Zane

4th District - Paul Kelley

5th District- Efren Carrillo

Board Meeting
Date: Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Time: 8:30 AM
Location: Supervisor’s Chambers
Sonoma County Administration Building
575 Administration Drive - Room 102A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403-282

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