Tree clear-cut sparks vineyard conversion furor

  • Workers walk past a "Order to Stop Work" sign posted by the County Agriculture Commissioner's office after officers from the County District Attorney's office found work continuing of the property now owned by Paul Hobbs. Hobbs cleared Christmas trees from the old Davis Tree Farm on Vine Hill Rd.

Efren Carrillo, chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, has come out swinging against a winemaker with a recent history of controversial tree removals.

The winemaker, Paul Hobbs, in turn says he's being unfairly pilloried, but he's facing complications beyond Carrillo's withering words.

On Thursday, an official from the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner's Office, accompanied by an investigator from the Sonoma County District Attorney's office, ordered workers at the latest tree removal site to stop work pending an investigation.

"It's like he's adding insult to injury here," Carrillo said on Thursday, even as Hobbs insisted he was being clobbered for doing the right thing.

The latest chapter in the story began Tuesday when Carrillo published a blistering critique of Hobbs in connection with the clear-cutting of a former Christmas tree farm near Sebastopol as well as with two other tree clearings to make room for grapevines.

Carrillo charged that Hobbs, who is under contract to buy the farm, and its current owners skirted regulations by clearing the land for a vineyard without a conversion permit.

"Paul Hobbs has shown a blatant disregard for Sonoma County, its resources, his fellow vintners and community sentiment," Carrillo wrote on the Sonoma County Gazette website.

"To me, his wines are unpalatable as they carry strong tones of environmental harm with overwhelming notes of arrogance," Carrillo wrote.

But Hobbs said Thursday that he had been blindsided by a baseless and offensive attack without the chance to address the charges. He doesn't own the land in question, he said.

"I'm really shocked," he said. "That's a defamation of our good reputation and I think there's been too much of that."

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