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I am writing to respond to the Register’s editorial “Small winery expansions can have big impacts” from July 14. First of all, thank you for this very important article and keen observations on county-allowed growth trends in the industry.

As noted in your piece, the past five months have seen 300,000 gallons of new wine production, allowed at four of more than 400 winery locations in the county — a trend that we will likely be seeing more and more of.

Recent county actions to reduce the permitted number of visits to some of these approved expansions is truly only a token treatment of the problem. The 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO) was commissioned to examine a whole variety of potential impacts that winery and wine production expansion might have on the land, our natural resources, traffic, over-commercialism, and a host of other quality of life/environmental concerns.

The drafting of the WDO was a very important, visionary action on the part of county leaders to recognize both what the future would look like without responsible planning policy, venturing that without forethought and controls, Napa County’s golden goose would likely become an albatross around our neck.

The WDO report placed a strong emphasis on how unregulated vineyard expansion in our hillside frontier lands could be a major contributing factor to undesirable proliferation of winery facilities.

Within a year of the release of the report, Napa County’s board of supervisors strategically enacted conservation regulations, which ultimately slowed vineyard acreage expansion well below WDO projections.

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So then, why are we now facing the very same growth expansion problems feared in 1990? The answer, at least in large part, is the ongoing corporatization by large business conglomerates, working to up production, bottom-line profit, and brand value by using loopholes in regulations to bring in grapes not produced in Napa County.

The county clearly needs to take a much-needed reexamination of the WDO, returning to the original spirit and intent of the very reasons it was enacted. It is clearly time to consider either a total revamping of the program, or, at the very least, an honest, in-depth examination of enforcement protocols.

This is an issue that should concern all county residents and not merely an environmental concern. Lacking attention, the exploitation of WDO rules and guidance will lead us down a path of no return, and threaten the very reasons we love to call this place “home.”

Phil Blake is writing on behalf of the Sierra Club Executive Committee, Napa Chapter.

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