As California’s wine industry continues to grow, vintners are searching for suitable areas to grow grapes outside of the valleys and closer to the coast. But Spanish winemaker Artesa Vineyards and Winery is taking this quest too far with plans to destroy 154 acres of coastal redwoods and Douglas firs to make space for new grapevines. With one study indicating that areas suitable for vineyards in the world’s major wine-producing regions could shrink between 19 and 73 percent by 2050, it’s likely that the situation will get worse before it gets better.
Artesa Vineyards and Winery already has permission from California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to cut down thousands of trees in Sonoma County. Not taking the news lightly, environmentalists are suing the agency on the grounds that the approval violates the state’s environmental laws. Up to 80 feet tall, redwoods provide crucial habitat for local wildlife and protect streams from erosion.
Speaking with NPR, Chris Poehlmann, president of a small organization called Friends of the Gualala River, says the wine industry is creeping toward the coast as California’s interior valleys heat up and consumers show preferences for cooler-weather grapes like pinot noir. Sam Singer, a spokesman for the winery argued that the trees are only 50 years-old, which means there are technically no forests on the site. He went on to offer the concession of sparing two trees from the site that can be defined as “old-growth.”
Friends of the Gualala River, Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter, and The Center for Biological Diversity are the three organizations that filed a suit against the winemaker in 2012. Redwoods are the tallest trees on Earth. They can grow to be more than 350 feet tall, and live as long as 2,000 years. If the suit proves unsuccessful, it would be a huge loss to the ecosystem of Sonoma County, and an even greater blow for the moral standing of big companies.
** UPDATED 10/2014: Artesa Vineyards and Winery announced in June 2014 that its 324-acre property near Annapolis in Sonoma County is no longer part of its growth strategy and has been put on the market for sale.