Sebastopol, California - Paul Hobbs winery officials today said the company will aggressively fight a lawsuit that could overturn Sonoma County’s important and comprehensive vineyard regulations.
The lawsuit was filed this past week in Sonoma County courts against both Paul Hobbs Winery and Sonoma County. It contends a permit issued to the winery by the County should be subject to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) rules.
The lawsuit was filed by a group of people whose children attend school near the 48-acre Watertrough Road property. Despite opposition from this small group, the winery enjoys excellent relations with Apple Blossom School, an elementary school located next door to the property, and the Twin Hills School District in general.
“In order to start work on the Watertrough property we worked closely with the County to meet all legal requirements to receive a permit, which is granted by a ministerial act of the County,” said Christopher O’Gorman, a spokesman for the winery. “We complied with the requirements and therefore the County acted entirely properly in granting us our permit.”
The Hobbs vineyard did make some errors during its initial stages of development, O’Gorman said, by cutting blackberry bushes and a strand of trees, and he noted that Paul Hobbs has replanted the area and apologized to the community and the County for the mistakes.
O’Gorman said the legal action against the vineyard runs counter to the regulations followed by the County and its wine industry for more than a decade.
Since 2000, Sonoma County’s Vineyard Erosion and Soil Control Ordinance (VESCO) has regulated vineyard development and guided environmentally and socially responsible vineyard conversions. VESCO’s distinction from CEQA is made explicitly clear in the language of the ordinance, which contains a provision that would nullify the ordinance should CEQA become applicable through a misguided lawsuit like the one filed against Hobbs and the County.
In fact, the Sonoma County Superior Court has already rejected this very same argument, and upheld VESCO in a March, 2011 ruling.
The provisions of VESCO are stringent, said O’Gorman, and important to preserving and protecting the agriculture, the environment and residents.
“Ironically, even though Paul Hobbs Winery has been subject to agency oversight for VESCO violations in the past, we still feel the ordinance is a good thing for our County,” said O’Gorman. “We feel strongly there is no reason to overturn a decade of positive protections for all Sonoma County and its environment that VESCO provides.
Hobbs, who utilizes sustainable practices in his vineyards, and termed his Watertrough Road vineyard “one step away from organic,” strongly supports VESCO. The nullification of VESCO could lead to unrestricted and irresponsible vineyard development that has had very negative environmental consequences in the past and has hurt the wine industry’s reputation.
Ultimately, Paul Hobbs Winery wants what is best for the grape-growing industry, the environment, and its resident neighbors.
“It’s our view that the most committed environmentalists in the county are the farmers who rely on quality topsoil and healthy land to make their living,” O’Gorman said. “If we don’t take care of the land, we’re out of business. We are, and we plan to, continue to follow the rules and to protect the environment.”
The lawsuit is in its early stages, and will eventually be taken up by Sonoma County Superior court.
Contact: Christopher O’Gorman
Phone: 707.824.9879 ext 22