Robert Digitales, Press Democrat
June 3, 2014
The decision was hailed by environmentalists, who last year persuaded a Sonoma County judge to rule that the vineyard project’s environmental studies were flawed.
“For us and the forest, it’s great news,” Friends of the Gualala River President Chris Poehlmann said of the winery’s decision.
Artesa spokesman Sam Singer insisted that the decision to sell wasn’t related to the court ruling. Instead, he made reference to a press release stating that Artesa offered the property for sale because “Sonoma County is no longer part of its growth strategy.”
“It really has to do with a refocus on the Napa Valley as opposed to the Sonoma property,” Singer said.
Artesa, owned by the Spanish wine giant Grupo Codorniu, bought the property in 1999 for $1.7 million. The company proposed and withdrew an earlier project before submitting its latest plans in 2009. It sought to clear 154 acres of second- and third-growth redwood and fir trees and former orchard land to grow premium chardonnay and pinot noir grapes.
The winery noted the land had been completely logged about 40 to 60 years ago and had been used for sheep grazing and for apple orchards until the early 1960s.
But environmental groups maintained that the region’s forest lands should be spared from the intense disruption of vineyard conversion and grape production.
The same opponents already had battled Preservation Ranch, a much larger vineyard conversion project near Annapolis. Last year environmentalists celebrated when that site of nearly 20,000 acres was purchased for $24.5 million for conservation purposes.
In December, Sonoma County Judge Elliot Daum ruled against Artesa in five of nine claims put forward in a lawsuit by the Sierra Club, Friends of the Gualala River and the Center for Biological Diversity. Daum specifically concluded that the environmental impact report had failed to adequately study alterative sites, including properties that aren’t forested.
Following that ruling, opponents said they would increase their pressure on Artesa to abandon the project.
Victoria Brandon, chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter, said she was very pleased that the winery had decided to put the land up for sale.
“The Sierra Club thinks this land is an inappropriate place to put a vineyard,” she said.
But Singer said Artesa stands ready to assist any buyer who would still wish to win permission to plant grapes on the land.
“We believe this is an excellent vineyard property for the next person who would like to attempt it,” he said.
But Nick Peay, a co-owner of Peay Vineyards near Annapolis, noted that Artesa “had jumped through every single hoop” in the environmental hearing process and still lost in court.
Someone may buy the property and even plant grapes on the portion now in open space, Peay said. But he put the chances of another forest conversion project there at “slim to none.”