Close to Home: Is Big Wine the Big Oil ofSonoma County?

The Sonoma County wine industry is starting to look like big oil.|

The Sonoma County wine industry is starting to look like big oil. Its leaders crow about preserving the environment when they have created an unmitigated environmental disaster. They recently received $374,000 of taxpayer money to implement “sustainability” in Sonoma County. A good thought. Suspicions arise when the first thing they did with their taxpayer grant was buy a full page ad and label themselves “sustainable.”

The history of the local wine industry is “Paint it green and buy the supervisors.” The industry is just too big to be told what to do by mere citizens or politicians. It just throws some more money at redefining the problem until it expires.

You be the judge. Sustainability is a stool with three legs: the environment, the economy and social justice. The wine industry will cut water use, cut chemicals and do lots of advertising telling us what a good job it did. It will come with a sack full of facts and figures to show it is in the right, but it will not change, if the past is to be judge.

The wine industry will not join the chorus in support of raising minimum wages, an essential part of sustainability. They want cheap workers. The industry will not provide housing. They never have beyond a few “floor show” units. They fail on the social justice aspect and must add a housing component and higher wage if they want to be sustainability advocates.

Are you up for it industry?

Environmentally, grape farming is predicated on killing all organisms and keeping them that way - dead. Poison nematodes, poison weeds, poison birds, poison critters. They clear-cut zones around the vineyard. The topsoil leaves Sonoma County vineyards to our waterways by the tons. Why no sheet mulching?

They continue to plant in riparian and wetland areas. Go to Mill Station Road near Atascadero Creek to see this sustainable approach. And, support for limiting wineries in “mapped water scarce areas” to protect neighbors, not a chance.

Interesting to see what courage the industry has to become sustainable. I know it will have its two full-time lobbyists out with their green paint brushes. I look forward to the dialogue. Some of us will know when the green paint peels and blisters.

Recently, the issue of event venters has cropped up. The county allows an event center application with hundreds of people a day on 10 acres of diverse ag land with half-acre of grapes. Industry does not want to change this. That’s how tough county regulations are. I’m intellectually amused by Kendell Jackson and Balletto Winery arguing against curtailment of event centers by regulation because it will hurt “small farmers.” Oh, please!

I have been around the wine industry for 35 years. Wine grapes are obviously a tremendous value to Sonoma County. However, the wine industry has not ever wanted to solve environmental problems that it causes. It wants exemptions and it generally gets them. Recently, they were exemption from strict water use regulations imposed on everyone else by Water Quality Control Board. They use green wash, ag wash, hog wash, until the issues go away. Now, they have a sustainability grant. If the comments at the Wine Advisory Committee and by industry lobbyist are any indication, they will join the ranks of big oil in grape washing all problems away.

I hope I am wrong, but if I am not, I’ll be there representing neighbors, fish and birds with a green poop scraper.

Ernie Carpenter, a resident of Sebastopol, is a former Sonoma County supervisor.

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