Wine

County takes 'public nuisance' vineyard to court

Untended vines can harbor pests, ag commissioner says
2013-07-22T13:03:00Z 2013-07-24T11:12:59Z County takes 'public nuisance' vineyard to courtKERANA TODOROV Napa Valley Register
July 22, 2013 1:03 pm  • 

As part of its campaign against the European grapevine moth, Napa County may force the owners of a vineyard north of Yountville to remove or destroy their abandoned vines.

Since 2010, Napa County has sent “public nuisance” notices to the owners of 17 vineyards either abandoned or neglected, according to the Napa County agricultural commissioner.

The owners of the vineyard at 1195 State Lane are the first ones taken to court after allegedly failing to abate the nuisance in spite of numerous county contacts, Agricultural Commissioner Dave Whitmer said last week. “Everyone really has gone overboard to contact the people and to work with them,” he said.

Vineyards that are not maintained pose a threat of infestation to other properties. “I’ve heard from neighbors that it’s really a problem for them,” said Whitmer.

A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 3 in Napa County Superior Court. Co-owners Aaron Braun of Kentfield in Marin County, who owns the 1 1/2-acre vineyard with Joan DeHovitz of Kentfield, said Saturday he did not want to comment on the matter. “I’m not an agricultural expert,” he said.

The 8.27-acre property, which includes a house and swimming pool, is in foreclosure, according to Napa County.

Whitmer said he does not know yet what actions county officials will take to abate the nuisance. The county would place a lien on the property if it must pay to either remove the vines or treat the vineyard, he said.

Grapes are the primary hosts for the European grapevine moth, which was first detected in Napa County in 2009. Since then, millions of dollars have been spent to eradicate the moths and prevent infestations in Napa County, which remains under quarantine.

County officials have blanketed the county with insect traps to monitor the infestation. Growers whose vineyards are located within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of an area where a moth has been found have to treat their vines.

“Vineyard properties that are neglected or not properly maintained often become reservoirs for populations of various pests and can potentially threaten neighboring production vineyards,” according to the agriculture commissioner’s website. “A pest like European Grapevine Moth (Lobesia botrana) requires timely and specific treatments to control its populations, and it could thrive if allowed to exist in an untreated habitat.”

Because of the quarantine, growers have to disinfect equipment, place tarpaulins over grapes during transport or truck less fruit at a time to prevent grape spills.

Eradication efforts seem to be working, Whitmer said. Only 40 moths have been trapped so far in 2013. In 2010, 100,000 moths were trapped. “So we’re headed in the right direction,” he said.

County officials continue to encourage homeowners who have grapes either to remove all flowers or clusters from their vines or treat the plants with an insecticide.

Braun disputed county officials’ assertions that property tax installments were not paid in December 2012 and April 2013. The total amount due by July 31 is $54,774.50, according to county records.

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(7) Comments

  1. glenroy
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    glenroy - July 23, 2013 6:54 am
    I think the county is more than a little invasive and punitive...if someone wants to live in a jungle of vines that’s their business and nobody else.

  2. napawoman1
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    napawoman1 - July 23, 2013 9:20 am
    The issue here is not just their decision to abandone the vineyard. It's the damage their decision can cause the the other vineyards in the neighborhood. For many people, this is their livelyhood.
  3. winebroad
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    winebroad - July 23, 2013 9:27 am
    Not if the abandonded vineyard serves as a breeding ground for European Grapevine Moth. Then it becomes everyone's problem. The County is doing the correct thing here without a doubt.
  4. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - July 23, 2013 12:02 pm
    It's interesting how some people don't want regulation and yet without such regulation, the Valley would be inundated by a moth that would end out being even more costly to eradicate. This is a form of "user pays" government. Those who own and profit from their land need to take responsibility so that taxpayers don't have to subsidize their neglect.
  5. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - July 23, 2013 12:21 pm
    Also, since we're on the subject of vineyard pest control, is it possible for someone to do a study and see if vineyards that are surrounded by forest, or vineyards that have forest islands are less susceptible to European Grapevine Moth? In Central America regions that have been partially clear cut for agriculture, leaving islands of forest reduce or nearly eliminate the need for pesticides because nature takes care of it.
  6. napablogger
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    napablogger - July 23, 2013 3:42 pm
    They should just bulldoze it and send the owner a bill. One and half acres could be done in one day for a pretty low cost. If they dont' pay the bill put a lean on the property, it is going to sell for a pretty penny.
  7. Tom74
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    Tom74 - July 24, 2013 2:31 pm
    How's this unkempt vineyard any different from the "organic" vineyards? They both refuse to use pesticides. Organic vineyards are not "removing flowers or clusters". The organic growers pretty much just let things go and hope for the best in terms of nuisance pests, regardless of risks posed to neighboring vineyards. Yet the organic growers are hailed as doing something good for the environment. What's the difference?
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