Inside Jim and Betty Doerksen's century-old farmhouse on St. Helena Road, stacks of paper and aerial photos are spread across a dining room table, beneath an antique rifle mounted on the wall.
The setting reflects the couple's battle with a Wall Street executive who wants to build an 18,000-square-foot winery and 8,000-square-foot storage cave in the hills above their home.
The Doerksens, and many of their neighbors who live in the forested enclave northeast of Santa Rosa, fear the winery and the vines will further deplete water levels in Mark West Creek, increase the risk of landslides and bring unwanted traffic to the area.
To underscore his concern, Jim Doerksen, 69, posted a sign on a tree so that all who drive the curvy two-lane road are aware of the controversy: "Vineyards Suck!!! Water," it reads.
The fight, which includes a key hearing today before Sonoma County planners on whether to grant the winery's use permit, is the latest involving well-heeled vintners who seek Sonoma County cache and neighbors who fear grapes are wrecking their way of life.
The winery plan submitted by Henry Cornell, a managing director for the global investment banking and securities firm Goldman Sachs, is the second brought by a wealthy vintner in the area.
The other is from Jess Jackson, the billionaire owner of the Kendall-Jackson wine empire, who hopes to place an artisan winery and tasting room on Highway 128 near Franz Valley Road.
That plan also has drawn neighborhood protest, primarily over Jackson's desire to operate a tasting room at the site.
These protests more broadly signal growing concern over the effect wineries and vineyards have on the quality of life in rural environs. But because vineyards are exempt from environmental review, the focus of these battles has been on the construction of wineries -- and on those who submit the plans.
"It's all they (opponents) have," said David Hardy, supervising planner of the county's Permit and Resource Management Department. "It's the only thing they get a public notice for."
St. Helena Road residents say they are worried Cornell's plans will endanger sensitive habitats by putting more sediment into Mark West Creek, which originates about six miles west of St. Helena and meanders for miles before emptying into the Russian River near Steelhead Beach.
The creek is one of only a few tributaries of the Russian River that still supports a healthy population of endangered steelhead trout. But Doerksen, whose deck overlooks the creek, said he sees fewer and fewer steelhead and salmonoids with each passing year.
"We say, 'OK, there's going to be a good flow because we've had lots of rain.' Wrong. It's always the worst year ever," he said inside his home, where wood crackled in a fireplace.
On the flip side, Doerksen said he tried to buy flood insurance for his home this year for the first time. He blames the high water flow on erosion from vineyards replacing redwoods, Douglas fir and other native trees.
In September, he rented a plane and took aerial photos of the 40-acre parcel where Cornell hopes to build his winery. The photos show bald land surrounded by trees.
"We were absolutely flabbergasted by what we saw when we got up there," he said. "You think that it's a 10-acre winery, and there's all these vineyards up there."