Justin Wines, named winery of the year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, bulldozed hundreds of oaks this week in Paso Robles. Local disapproval was more than mild. People are calling for a boycott of the brand while several restaurants scratch Justin wines off their menus.
This news has more implications for our valley than for Chicago or Miami, where the story was picked up by the Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald but not by our own Napa Valley Register. (Editor's note: The Register did run a story on the protest online on June 20, but did not have room in the next-day's printed edition).
Maybe it’s because clear-cutting has occurred for decades in Napa County. Feeling both blessed and dependent on our agribusiness, we tiptoe around our hillside vineyards, and hope that the French, Australian, Chinese, English or Texan owners will honor this land when they experience the beauty of Napa Valley. I think we can no longer count on that sensibility.
Due to drought, erosion and frighteningly hot days, we need our forests more than ever. Our oak savannahs, madrones and redwood forests promote recharge of groundwater, stabilize the soil, provide wildlife habitat, store carbon, cool the land, and please our eyes. It seems it is time we endorse a forest protection ordinance as have Monterey, Santa Barbara and Sonoma counties.
Grapes are now big money. For example, Justin Wines in Paso Robles is owned by a subsidiary of the paradoxically named “Wonderful Company.” The famed Beverly Hills billionaires, the Resnicks, own the company. Forbes Magazine estimates half of Americans consume their products, and the Resnicks have been described as the "Koch Brothers of California Water."
In other words, the oak trees are up against multinational powerhouse companies, and stockholders who insist on quarterly growth. Here on Atlas Peak, Craig Hall, the spokesman for Hall-Brambletree Associates, a Texas-based company, plans on destroying 300 acres of woodland. Unfortunately, it seems we have to protect our streamside and hillside forests from the 1 percent.
San Luis Obispo spoke out with a boycott; we are asking for oak tree protection. Recently a clean-water and oak initiative was signed by 6,300 Napa residents. For now it has been blocked on a technicality. I ask the county supervisors to put it on the ballot, just as Diane Dillon proposed for the Blakeley family in Calistoga. Give us a chance to keep our water clean, and save our watershed trees. I love the vineyards but I worry that we have reached our sustainable limit.