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Walt Ranch Nears Approval as Halls Submit Greenhouse Gas Emissions Mitigation Plan

by Kerana Todorov
September 24, 2021

The controversial vineyard Craig and Kathryn Hall have sought to develop for many years in the hills above the Napa Valley floor may receive its final stamp of approval on Oct. 1.

Napa County‘s planning director has tentatively approved a plan submitted by the applicant, formally known as Hall Brambletree Associates.

The proposal, submitted May 5, includes planting 32,580 oak seedlings and setting aside nearly 650 acres in conservation easement on the 2,300-acre ranch. Altogether, the Halls want to clear 316 acres in order to develop the 209-acres vineyard on the ranch they have owned since 2005. The land lies between Highway 121 and Atlas Peak AVA.

Napa County’s planning director David Morrison issued the tentative approval on Sept. 21. It could become final Oct. 1 unless the public files an appeal.

Hall Brambletree Associates sent the May 5 proposal in response to a state appellate court ruling issued in 2019 that found Napa County had not adequately addressed the development’s greenhouse gas emissions. Napa County initially approved the project in 2016.

The plan does not address other environmental questions as the appellate court upheld other rulings by the Napa County Superior Court dealing with water and other issues. Opponents included the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and residents of Circle Oaks, a subdivision near Walt Ranch.

The ranch has burned twice in recent times - in 2017 and 2020. About 97 percent of the land – or about 2,200 acres – has burned, said Mike Reynolds, president at HALL wines.

“For these reasons, the inventory of trees and sequestered carbon on the property is a tiny fraction of what it was in 2016,” said Reynolds in his letter to Morrison outlying the plan.

Reynolds wrote on behalf of applicant Hall Brambletree Associates LLC. “Most of the sequestered carbon that would be emitted by clearing trees and planting vines is already in the atmosphere,” Reynolds wrote.

Yet Hall Brambletree Associates did not ask Napa County to tabulate new data to figure out the greenhouse gas mitigation measures.

The appellate court’s “sole qualm was with the (greenhouse gas) mitigation adopted by the County,” Reynolds wrote in his letter.

If these calculations were to be revisited, they could be “subject to further scrutiny and legal review,” Reynolds said.

“In addition, the fires have scarred the landscape, and we welcome the opportunity to use the Walt Ranch (greenhouse gas) mitigation as an opportunity to help repair it,” Reynolds wrote.

The fires have “scarred the landscape,” Reynolds said in his letter.

The project has shrunk since it was first proposed Initially, the plan was to clear more than 500 acres to develop more than 350 acres of vineyards.

Reynolds said the proposal will fully mitigate the project’s greenhouse gas emissions. He noted that the proposed greenhouse gas mitigation measures were based on data from the initial, bigger project.

The proposal whipped up a storm of protests and hours of debate before county officials. The county received hundreds of comments raising alarm about water usage, oak tree removals, greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental concerns.

Its approval spurred the Center for Biological Diversity and others to file lawsuits in state court followed by an appeal to the First Appellate District Court.

In 2019, the appellate court in San Francisco ruled that Napa County erred on one point -  it did not property evaluate the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. The court returned the case to  the Napa County Superior Court to rule on the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the development.

The tentative approval can be found at: https://bit.ly/3zxKfVX

 

 


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