Hall Coalition in the News
uphill battle regulation have raised environmental awareness,
but they also have made planting new vines costlier and more
(Press Democrat, 2/4/01)
vineyard Kirk Lokka is developing on an old apple ranch in Sebastopol
could become a model for Wine Country's future: One-fifth of
the land will stay in its natural state, there will be no deer
fencing and the grapes will be farmed without pesticides.
the antithesis of the "industrial vineyard'' that has become
the rallying cry for wine industry critics.
a Sonoma County vineyard manager for 20 years, said the new
approach he is taking is driven by the county's hillside vineyard
ordinance, which turns a year old this week.
or three years ago we would have come in and bulldozed the oak
trees, plowed and planted grapes fence to fence,'' Lokka said.
"We are looking at things differently now.''
difference is traced to the public debate that led to passage
of the ordinance, which regulates where and how vineyards can
be planted on erosion-prone hillsides. The ordinance is one
piece of an overall change in how vineyards are viewed, developed
and managed in Sonoma County.
is a greater awareness of environmental concerns. But there
is also increased cost and time to develop a vineyard. Those
who have failed to comply were hit last year with fines up to
vineyards are driven by market conditions and the added regulations
did not stop development; grape planting continued at the same
pace as in the previous five years.
said the regulations in the 26-page ordinance required that
he hire civil engineers to develop an erosion-control system
on the land. He was also required to register his project with
the county agricultural commissioner.
he is going well beyond the technical requirements of the ordinance,
taking into account environmental issues that have been at the
forefront of the debate between grape growers and environmentalists
bent on preserving the natural landscape in an increasingly
not the only one.
Sonoma County's largest vineyard owner, has vowed it will never
cut another oak tree to make way for vineyards. And E &
J Gallo has permanently preserved thousands of acres of forest
and oak woodlands in developing its vineyards in Sonoma County.
a split remains between environmentalists and growers:
Environmentalists say the ordinance does not go far enough to
put the regulatory brakes on hillside vineyards, which continue
to move into fragile ecosystems. They say there is no protection
for forest lands, oak woodlands, watersheds and wildlife habitat.
Growers and county officials say the ordinance is working well
and preventing the disastrous soil erosion problems and landslides
that necessitated the law.
far, no major violations
no one was caught evading the ordinance, 11 property owners
were fined, mostly for not properly implementing the engineered
plans they had paid for.
ordinance is narrow in its authority, focusing on controlling
soil erosion and keeping sediment from polluting streams.
ordinance has increased awareness of environmental issues. When
most people plant vineyards they want someone to tell them the
right thing to do,'' said Gail Davis, a county planner who is
coordinator of the Sonoma County Vineyard Erosion and Sediment
the first stop for landowners planting vineyards, Davis' office
tries to steer growers around potential problems. Davis said
a half-dozen property owners have given up on the idea of planting
grapes after learning it could be a long, costly battle with
state regulatory agencies and one they might not win.
the ordinance's first year, Davis and her assistant processed
451 vineyard projects totaling 4,100 acres. Of the total, 2,800
acres are new vineyards and 1,262 acres are replanted vineyards.
The new plantings bring the county's total vineyard acreage
to more than 54,000 acres.
new vineyard acreage is similar to the 2,000 to 3,000 acres
added annually over the past five years as growers and wineries
respond to the unprecedented demand for Sonoma County wines.
But viticulture industry leaders expect planting to slow this
year as demand stabilizes and prices soften for some overplanted
grapes such as chardonnay.
was a `first step'
environmentalists and growers parted ways over the final version
of the ordinance last year, the Board of Supervisors unanimously
approved the law as a "first step'' in addressing environmental
issues related to grape production.
activists remain critical of the ordinance, describing it as
a "sell out'' to the wine industry, a law with few teeth
to curb the march of grapes into fragile forest lands and vital
ordinance does nothing to stop the conversion of badly needed
forest lands and woodlands to vineyards. The destruction of
habitat is a serious threat to public health as well as the
environment,'' said Lynn Hamilton, founder and spokeswoman for
the Town Hall Coalition, a group formed in 1999 to address vineyard
California Department of Forestry reports that in 2000 applications
were submitted to convert a total of 173 acres of forest land
to vineyards in Sonoma County. This includes six conversion
applications for three acres or less. The largest conversion
application was for 88 acres. There was one application for
60 acres and another for nine acres.
officials said some of the applications are still being processed
so not all the acreage has been cleared and converted to vineyards
Town Hall Coalition, said Hamilton, will soon seek amendments
to the ordinance so there are more regulatory controls on where
grapes can be planted in Sonoma County.
believes some land should be off-limits to grapes, no matter
what kind of erosion-control system is engineered for the property.
an Occidental resident who was formerly the mayor of Sebastopol,
said the extraordinary erosion-control measures being used to
develop hillside vineyards are a good indication that grapes
should not be planted in the first place.
never seen so many bales of straw, silt fences and cover crops
in my life,'' Hamilton said. "All these measures are to
try and mitigate the effects of poorly designed vineyards to
stop soil erosion.''
ordinance prohibits vineyards on hillsides with slopes greater
than 50 percent, terrain so steep that few vineyards are planted
ordinance requires that growers have certified erosion- and
sediment-control plans for vineyards planted on erodible hillsides
with slopes of 15 percent to 50 percent.
plans must be prepared by civil engineers or other licensed
professionals approved by the county agricultural commissioners
office and all vineyard development work must cease between
Nov. 1 and April 1, the rainy season when exposed soil is vulnerable
ordinance has certainly elevated consciousness,'' said Nick
Frey, executive director of the Sonoma County Grape Growers
Association. "People are being a lot more deliberate in
the development and implementation of a vineyard.''
said the ordinance allows landowners to develop well-planned
vineyards on hillsides so they can realize a return on their
financial investment in the property. He said some critics of
the ordinance just don't want vineyards on the county's hillsides.
He believes the ordinance is a good balance.
change in the landscape is not a reasonable objective,'' Frey
said the ordinance's authority is limited to soil erosion control
but she said growers are going beyond what the county law requires
when they develop hillside vineyards.
said Davis, after she walks the property with them and suggests
taking a soft approach to establishing a new vineyard -- leaving
stands of oak trees and not "piping'' natural swales, for
manager Victor Trentadue, owner of Four Seasons Vineyard Management
in Geyserville, said the ordinance's control measures on hillside
vineyards are costly but necessary to protect valuable soil.
He said an eight-acre site he is developing for vineyards has
cost $6,000 to $8,000 an acre to engineer and install the erosion-control
do what they say and more. I don't want any problems,'' Trentadue
cites Trentadue's work in the development of a hillside vineyard
off Lytton Springs Road as a prime example of what should be
done when hillsides are planted to grapes.
Commissioner John Westoby, who oversees the vineyard ordinance,
said 11 growers were fined for violating the ordinance. The
fines ranged from $200 to $2,000. He said most of the violations
were for not following the engineer's erosion control plan in
developing the vineyard site.
county ordinance is not the only law that regulates vineyard
development and it's certainly not the toughest in implementing
agencies such as the Department of Forestry, the California
Department of Fish and Game and the North Coast Water Quality
Control Board enforce laws that protect trees, waterways and
wildlife from poorly planned vineyard development.
agencies are working together to crack down on shoddy vineyard
development that damage wildlife and waterways.
Holtzman, the deputy district attorney who handles environmental
cases, said the county ordinance can help growers avoid hefty
greatest irony that I have seen is that some growers in an effort
to get around the county ordinance end up violating state laws,
which carry far more weight and bigger penalties,'' Holtzman
the ordinance, anyone who plants a vineyard in Sonoma County
-- even on flat land -- must notify the Sonoma County agricultural
commissioner, who administers the county law.
point is that there is rhyme and reason to the county vineyard
ordinance. If growers comply, it can significantly reduce their
risk of violating state laws,'' Holtzman said.
he moved an inch of dirt on the 127-acre apple ranch on Sanders
Road, Lokka met with Davis and Alan Buckman of Fish and Game.
The ranch, an historic spread settled in the past century by
the Sanders family, is bisected by Atascadero Creek and encompasses
a good part of the creek's watershed.
said Davis and Buckman had ideas about preserving natural habitat
and saving some minor tributaries to enhance the wildlife on
the ranch. Even though it wasn't required he set some land aside
for the wildlife.
feels good to provide a home for the deer and flock of turkeys
living here,'' said Lokka, a wildlife enthusiast himself.
year-old vineyard ordinance has not stopped the debate on the
shape of Wine Country.
Working well: Growers and county officials say the ordinance
is working well and preventing the disastrous soil erosion problems
and landslides that necessitated the law.
Not far enough: Environmentalists say the erosion-control ordinance
does not go far enough to put the regulatory brakes on hillside
vineyards, which continue to move into fragile ecosystems. They
say there is no protection for forest lands, oak woodlands,
watersheds and wildlife habitat.
main provisions of the Sonoma County Vineyard Erosion- and Sediment-Control
Vineyards are prohibited on hillsides with slopes greater than
Growers must have certified erosion- and sediment-control plans
for vineyards planted on erodible hillsides with slopes of 15
percent to 50 percent.
Erosion-control plans must be prepared by civil engineers or
other licensed professionals approved by the county agricultural
All vineyard development work must cease between Nov. 1 and
April 1, the rainy season when exposed soil is vulnerable to
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