Napa County doesn't need more vineyards

Napa County doesn't need more vineyards

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Media outlets across the Bay Area are starting to cover a problem that many in Napa County have been living with for months: an over-supply of grapes. Market conditions have led to rock-bottom prices and last-ditch efforts to line up buyers before grapes get too ripe for even the most extreme cellar intervention to rectify.

This scenario is painful for farmers who have to watch a season’s effort wither on the vine. But it’s also a loss to communities with a vested interest in the natural resources expended to grow those grapes, including the forests and native grasslands cleared to make way for the vines.

Could there be a clearer sign that Napa County doesn’t need more new vineyards -- particularly those carved out of the county’s precious hillside watersheds?

I am an avid wine drinker and previously worked as a winemaker on the North Coast. I have tremendous respect and empathy for those working among the vines and in the cellars of Napa County. But enough is enough.

When the dust of the 2019 harvest settles, the Napa County Board of Supervisors should think of the tons left on the vine not only in terms of the financial loss, but also of the environmental waste.

When supervisors consider yet another new vineyard conversion project, they’d do well to ponder the damage such conversions are doing to both the county’s existing wineries and the environment. The county is currently considering applications that, if approved, would require more than 1,180 acres of undeveloped land to be cleared for new vineyards.

As vineyard acreage increases, the likelihood of over-supply events goes up. Should natural resources that provide immense public benefit -- healthy watersheds, crucial wildlife habitat and carbon-sequestering forests -- be sacrificed to grow an industry that may already be at carrying capacity?

Napa County supervisors should rein in unsustainable growth and fundamentally change the conversation around the future of the Napa wine industry.

Napa’s continued success as a world-class wine region does not depend on relentlessly and recklessly expanding vineyards into the hillsides. The county’s leaders should not continue to sacrifice water, trees and wildlife for new vineyards that will only ratchet up the risk of more grape gluts in years to come.

Ross Middlemiss, Staff Attorney

Center for Biological Diversity

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