Napa Vision 2050 President Charlotte Williams, as quoted in the Napa Valley Register (Jan. 21): “For the sake of saving the world, we … and everyone else in the world, need leaders who will make personal sacrifices to ensure a healthy world for us all. We need you (the Napa County Board of Supervisors) to take immediate action to protect and regenerate our natural environment.”
The subject at issue here is the regulation of vineyard development in Napa County. But what is it, exactly, Ms. Williams is so exercised about? What ecological disaster has befallen us here in Napa County that so urgently requires courageous measures be enacted immediately?
It turns out that what really alarms Ms. Williams and her Napa Vision 2050 allies are folks who want to cut down oak trees and plant vineyards in their place. Vineyards are bad, they contend, because vineyards suck dry and pollute the water supply, they subvert ecological diversity, the cutting of trees to plant vineyards contributes to global warming, and, generally speaking, they spell ruination for the environment.
From time to time members of Ms. Williams group will lamely aver that they are fine with vineyards, that all they want is to protect the environment. To anyone paying attention, however, it’s pretty clear, that the end result sought by the 2050 crowd is a complete cessation of the planting of new vineyards.
In their effort to achieve this goal they make specious, unsupported claims, based on little more than anecdotal evidence, about the degraded state of the environment. They hope this doom-saying will appeal to a conscientious, but largely uninformed general public.
No doubt the Napa Vision 2050 people will be horrified by the comparison, but their fear tactics are unfortunately reminiscent of President Trump’s false claims and demagoguery with respect to his need for a wall along our border with Mexico. Just as there is no immigration crisis along our southern boundary, likewise, there is no ecological crisis in Napa County, nor is there one anywhere on the horizon.
Here are a few facts that may help put this matter in perspective: Napa County is 506,000 acres, of which the Land Trust holds 73,000 acres; city, state and federally owned land is 135,000 acres for a total of 208,000 acres of protected land — land that is unavailable for development. There are 38,000 acres of coniferous forest, 11,000 acres of riparian woodlands and 167,000 acres of oak woodland. This total is 216,000 acres. There is about 50,000 acres of vineyard — roughly 10 percent of the county. This means Napa County currently has more than four times as many trees as it has vineyards and more than four times the amount of protected land than vineyards.
Does anyone really think that even a few thousand more acres of vineyard is going to irretrievably damage Napa County? It seems far more likely that a new round of draconian regulations inflicted on the most regulated agricultural county in California — if not the nation — is where the real potential for long term damage resides.
Personally, I find vineyards extremely attractive and I prefer them to oak woodland. If additional portions of Napa were covered with grapevines rather than oak woodlands, very little would change and no catastrophe whatsoever would befall us.
Instead, Napa County would be a bit more like the Rheingau or the Mosel in Germany, or the Tuscan hills and the Cinque Terra of Italy, or any of the hundreds of other locales in Europe where grapevines have grown for hundreds of years — millennia even — and some on slopes well in excess of 30 or 40 percent.
Maybe the Napa Vision 2050 people look at those European vineyards and see a disaster, but I see a beautiful landscape and a national treasure. If the marketplace decrees that Napa County has more grapevines and fewer oak trees, then I say, let it happen. We could do a lot worse.