Close to Home: Some key facts on grapes and small farming

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I am a farmer who grows wine grapes and lives in Sonoma County on my 6.5-acre ranch on Laguna Road. My wife and daughter are actively involved in our farming activities. We sell our grapes to a winery founded by a waiter and sommelier at a local restaurant who pooled their tips to get their start in the wine business. I have a hard time squaring my own life and farming practices, and those of my friends and neighbors, with what I hear described by self-described “activists” in this newspaper and on social media who would characterize me and my family as “Big Wine,” then accuse us of all manner of environmental and moral transgressions.

Here are some facts I’d like to offer for your consideration:

North Coast grape growers are at the forefront of environmentalism and conservation. My farm provides a viable alternative to urban sprawl. My farming practices — ranging from habitat preservation, solar energy generation and drip and precision Irrigation to integrated pest management (a science-based system which strives to manage pests with minimal harm to the environment), etc. — are state of the art. My farm provides employment, and we honor those who help us achieve our goal of growing the highest quality wine grapes.We strive to get along with all of our neighbors and the creatures we share our land with. I feel the same is true of my friends and neighbors.

Agriculture is part of Sonoma County’s heritage. Wine grapes have been grown in Sonoma County for 200 years. Although only 6 percent of Sonoma County’s land is planted to wine grapes, the wine industry provides more than 54,000 jobs, $1.4 billion in taxes, a $13.4 billion economic impact and contributes more than $25 million to local charities. Eighty-five percent of Sonoma County vineyards are, like mine, family-owned.

The fact that Sonoma County wine grapes command a premium in today’s market allows me to continue to farm, to invest in sustainability efforts that redound to the community’s benefit and, hopefully, pass my farm along to my children. Were I forced to grow apples, berries or “anything but wine grapes,” as industry detractors suggest, I would not be able to invest in sustainability efforts and, perhaps, not be able to continue to farm.

I understand the concern about winery event centers. Indeed, I relish the rural lifestyle that farming allows me to live. At the same time, for my farm to be sustainable, my winery partners need to be sustainable.

Today’s market demands the creation of personal relationships between wineries and their customers, especially in the case of small, local wineries.

A balance should be struck that respects the legitimate interests of wineries and neighbors, but the opponents of Sonoma County agriculture seem to have no interest in accommodation. This to me is the ultimate irony of all of this. If wine industry detractors are successful, small, family-owned wineries will be disproportionately harmed because they, more than the big guys, need these personal relationships.

I’ve followed with great interest the actions of the winery working group that the Board of Supervisors created to address the conflict between wineries and their neighbors. I’ve concluded that the working group is composed of well-meaning people working in good faith to reconcile the needs of wineries and their neighbors. They are on the right track and should be allowed to finish the job the Board of Supervisors tasked them to do.

In the end, I’d argue that environmentally conscientious, local, family farming is something to be celebrated. Please oppose those who seek to unfairly vilify local farmers.

Clay Gantz is owner of Gantz Family Vineyards in Santa Rosa.

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