Chopping Down Redwoods to Make Wine

Keith Goetzman
November 14, 2011

Chopping Down Redwoods to Make Wine

Two California vintners want to cut down 2,000 acres of redwood trees and replace them with vineyards in the largest woodland-to-vineyard conversion in California’s history. Do I need to explain what conservationists think of this?

Under the proposal, reported by the Los Angeles Times and later tipped by High Country News, two Sonoma County pinot noir growers, Premier Pacific Vineyards and Artesa Vineyards, want to expand their growing operations by slicing into forestlands of Douglas firs and the state’s iconic redwoods. Premier also wants to develop 60 high-end estates—for members of the 1 percent, I assume—on adjacent lands that it already owns on the ironically named Preservation Ranch.

“In exchange,” reports the Times, “the developers promise to restore streams, add more than 200 acres to a county park, plant 1 million redwoods and Douglas firs and make other environmental improvements.”

But environmental advocates aren’t appeased by these offers: “I don’t see a need for more deforestation to have a great wine economy, because there is a lot of cleared land already available,” said Adina Merelender, a UC Berkeley conservation biologist.

“The big issue for us,” added Jay Holcomb of the Sierra Club, “is that redwoods-to-vineyards conversions are worse than clear-cutting because they are permanent.” A Sierra Club website that has detailed information about Preservation Ranch suggests that its moniker was a greenwash from the get-go:

The project was named “Preservation Ranch” by its proponents to disguise its essential nature as a speculative for-profit venture which targets the steep, undeveloped redwood and oak woodlands of coastal Sonoma County.

A county official acknowledges that the proposal is “controversial from beginning to end,” so approval is by no means certain. One thing is sure, though: If the deal goes down, the resulting pinot noir, regardless of its flavor profile, will most certainly have a bitter, acrid finish.

UPDATE 11/9/2012: Premier Pacific Vineyards has been terminated as the manager of the vineyard investment portfolio held by the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, according to North Bay Business Journal and Wine Industry Insight. It’s unclear how this affects the company’s proposed vineyard expansion in Sonoma County. Sources: Los Angeles Times, High Country News, Sierra Club Redwood Chapter Image by Tim Pearce, Los Gatos, licensed under Creative Commons.