Premier Pacific, environmentalists battle it out over Sonoma forest lands
Premier Pacific Vineyards, the big vineyard development company whose leaders include former Napa vintner William Hill, finds itself embroiled in a heated tussle with local environmentalists, including the Sierra Club and Friends of the Gualala River, over PPV’s plan to develop 1,800 acres of vineyards in the high coastal hills near Annapolis, on the Sonoma Coast. According to a report published in th Santa Rosa Press Democrat, PPV purchased the land in 2004 for $28.5 million. Despite the company’s promise to plant 1 million new trees, critics of the project worry that development will invariably harm the mountainous region’s ecosystem and diversity.
It’s always hard in a case like this to know who’s right. I know from experience that some of the more extreme environmentalists in western Sonoma are basically against any development of the land at all, which seems to me to be an unrealistic attitude. Some years ago, Marimar Torres told me how eco-terrorists repeatedly struck in the middle of the night, vandalizing her property and spraypainting roadsigns, because she wanted to develop a beautiful, organic, highly progressive vineyard in the Green Valley.
But I also know that a big corporate entity can be insensitive and ride roughshod over the concerns of locals. PPV owns many thousands of acres of vineyard from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino, on up to Oregon and Washington and down into the Santa Rita Hills. When PPV first began development down in Santa Barbara, some vintners there privately expressed their concern that the area’s personality and natural infrastructure might be harmed. Yesterday I asked a friend of mine, who is a player in the Santa Rita Hills, what has been the local reaction to PPV, and he replied, “It is with no hesitation that I say that they have not been favorable shepherds of the land down here. I fear that a lot of their development has been irresponsible (and dangerous for crews down the road) and they are unscrupulous about taking crews away from other farming companies.”
As I said, it’s hard to know who’s right. In the case of the Sonoma project, it’s on hiatus until an EIR has been completed. And even that might not satisfy some of those involved.
P.S. Please check my final word on the Spectator issue at Wine Enthusiast’s unreserved.