Artesa Winery is fighting to improve and protect a neglected Sonoma, California property in the face of strident opposition from a controversial local group, Friends of the Gualala River. Sonoma County is a place known both for its excellent wine and its natural beauty.
But, the conversation has turned ugly over the effort by one well-regarded winery to renovate part of an abandoned Sonoma property into a vineyard and preserve and protect remainder of it. Artesa Vineyard and Winery has owned the 324 acre property since 1999 when it purchased the lot with the intention to use it to grow Pinot Noir.
The property has fallen into disrepair since it was used as an apple orchard in the early 1960’s. In 2009 Artesa submitted a proposal to convert 173 acres of this former orchard into vineyard and preserve the remaining 151 acres of Artesa’s proposal was approved by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) in 2012 after what official Dennis Hall called, “an extreme and exhaustive analysis of potential impacts” on the surrounding environment.
However, Artesa’s vineyard conversion was halted shortly after approval due to a local activists filing a lawsuit, even though the winery met The Friends of the Gualala River, a local activist groups, claims that Artesa’s vineyard conversion is “deforestation” and that if it is allowed to proceed it will “open the door to clear-cut coastal California forests.”
In a world concerned with global warming and in a state particularly focused on environmental concerns, the coalition has found their message resonating with some. However, others point out that the Friends of the Gualala River are misrepresenting the facts and are completely divorced from reality.
For example, the trees on the Sonoma coast property were removed by a previous owner some 40 to 60 years ago, long before the property was owned by Artesa. Only two old growth Redwood trees remain on the Artesa property, and Artesa’s plans preserve them as part of the new vineyard. Additionally, some Artesa supporters have made the point that the lot is already zoned for agricultural use.
Should Artesa withdrawal its proposal, the entire lot could be developed for other purposes, including the 151 acres the winery has committed to setting aside Concerns over a seasonal creek and other small, unnamed tributaries on the property are cited as a problem by the Friends of the Gualala, who contend that use of pesticides and groundwater for grape-production will adversely affect the area’s watershed.
However, Artesa’s Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) specifies that the vineyard will utilize a rainwater irrigation system and that the only well dug will be for use by workers and equipment cleanup. Artesa President Keith LaVine has also pointed out in recent interviews that pesticides were not used at all during the 2013 growing season in Artesa’s other vineyards, and would only be used in “rare, isolated cases.”
In case they must be used, the Artesa EIR lays out 30- to 100- foot buffer zones to protect water resources from any “vineyard disturbance.” The Artesa EIR plan goes beyond preventative concerns to specify improvements to the habitat on the property, including an expanded 3 acres of wetlands and three designated botanical preserves to protect the unique Annapolis Manzanita population which is found in the area.
Any Native American archeological sites uncovered in the conversion process are to be preserved as Surrounded by lots that have already successfully converted to vineyards, zoned for agricultural use, lacking old growth forest, and otherwise in disrepair for the last 50 years, it is hard to understand why this particular patch of Sonoma has been chosen as a battleground.
As the Sonoma County Superior Court deliberates for the next 30 days, the people at Artesa have no choice but to continue to prepare to start improving, and protecting, their slice of the beautiful Sonoma Coast.
Let’s hope reason prevails and that the objections to Artesa preserving his property are successful. The winery and their parent company have done more to enhance and preserve the property than the Friends of the Gualala River ever have.
To find out more about the facts, see: http://www.artesasonoma.com/