On Thursday, December 2, 1999, the Mendocino County Planning Commission will meet in the Cafeteria at the Boonville Fairgrounds at 9am. On the agenda are two Major Use Permit proposals from two local wineries located on the Holmes Ranch. These permits would significantly expand production at these wineries and allow open tasting rooms and retail sales in a residential neighborhood despite the fact these wineries are located on private, sub-standard roads. This is not a vineyard issue or a water issue. This is a case of the County of Mendocino ignoring residential property-owners rights in favor of commercial agricultural interests. They want to trade the peace of mind and tranquillity of the many for the commercial interests of two. These Major Use permits, if granted, could significantly change the way of life in our rural residential neighborhoods in this Valley and set far-reaching precedents for the rest of the County.
Pepperwood Springs and Claudia Springs are petitioning for open tasting and retail sales at their wineries, claiming they were ignorant of the restrictions on their current permits that do not allow these activities. They are also seeking significant increases in production limits: Currently, Claudia Springs is permitted to make 3,000 gallons but boasts of making 5,000 gallons of wine. They want to increase production to 16,500 gallons. Pepperwood Springs is permitted 5,000 gallons and admitted to more on their website of August, 1998 (their current website figures are in line with the permit). By the limits of their permit they are to make wine only from grapes grown on their land. Their product line includes wines made with grapes from other growers. Under their proposed application they want to make 7,500 gallons of wine. Claudia Springs is also petitioning for a 3,000 square-foot winery building. Residents want the current use permits with their limitations to remain intact.
The record shows that Pepperwood Springs and Claudia Springs have been in violation of almost every aspect of their current use permits and have been red-tagged for these violations. The County allows them to continue to operate without mitigation during the permit process. Over the years, both wineries have pushed beyond the limits of these existing permits. The resultant increase in traffic and parking on the roads and at least one complaint about winery waste running down storm ditches has only served to exacerbate the situation. Despite this, the County is poised to reward this behavior with only minor modifications to their applications for increases.
Blood pressures are up on the Holmes Ranch, a rural subdivision that is located in the hills north and east of Highway 128 in the western part of the Anderson Valley. As the Valley’s growing prestige draws more and more tourists, the traffic and general nuisance of the wandering tasters and wine shoppers on the Holmes Ranch has had the effect of dividing what was once a fairly harmonious group of homeowners. The lines for and against the proposals are clearly drawn. Support comes mainly from small vineyard owners and hopeful planters in the subdivision whose crops are or will be sold to one or the other of the wineries. Opposition is from many long-time and newer residents who have come to the Valley to escape the commercialism of more urbanized areas and simply want to live in a place free of commercial intrusion.
Underlying the differences are the eight miles of gravel and dirt roads in this subdivision, which are privately maintained by the 68 parcel owners all of whom are all members of their Holmes Ranch Association. Constructed in 1972, the roads are considered inadequate by County standards and the visiting tour buses and wine festival melee increase liability for the Association and its members and cause more clouds of dust to swirl into the already silted Mill Creek.
When the original permits for Pepperwood Springs and Claudia Springs were granted in the early and mid-80s respectively, they were endorsed by their neighbors as small family operations with sane limits on the number of gallons of wine produced. The Holmes Ranch Association Board and a group of residents signed petitions and letters that clearly stated they would tolerate these wineries in their neighborhood with the caveat that there be no retail sales or tasting.
Much of the present furor on the Holmes Ranch was generated by another disturbing incident in the subdivision which is zoned Upland Residential. The Zoning Code for this district reads: “this district is intended to create farming and low density agriculture/residential… (on) non-prime production lands which have constraints to commercial agriculture…” In 1998, Duckhorn purchased a 20-acre parcel, tore down the two residences, ripped out the old apple trees, and ground through the resulting debris for endless days with huge bulldozers. No living things inhabit that parcel anymore. They proceeded to install a fence along the road which, when combined with the other vineyard fences on Guntly Road, had the effect of forming the equivalent of a gauntlet.
A nighttime drive through this steel corridor reveals panicky wildlife of all species running for exits that no longer exist and banging fruitlessly into these barriers. Last year a turkey found its way into the Pepperwood Springs vineyard, and was executed and hung in effigy on their fence to the disgust of many residents.
Personally, I don’t care where anyone grows grapes — they can grow them in their living rooms if they like, but residential neighborhoods should be given some considerations for the quality of life of the people and animals who live and pass by these installations. Commercial considerations should be left at the highways.
Until now the most desirable real estate for wineries and tasting rooms in the Anderson Valley has been on the valley floor with entrances off Highway 128. As with any commercial venture, it has always made sense to bring the product to the client. It’s good for business and good for the Valley. This tacit understanding has kept our rural neighborhoods safe from the commercial and industrial aspects of the wine business. It also has kept some of the more inebriated tasters from wiping out our children, our pets and wildlife on the many private roads and smaller county arteries in the Valley Road system.
If the county is ready to grant this kind of Major Use permit, any residential parcels that are tucked back on the Nash Ranch, Anderson Valley Way, Rays Road or presumably any residential road in the County, could be turned into tourist destinations — complete with flapping flags, neon signs and paper maché replicas of Octopus Mountain. If the door is opened to these Major Use Permits (which are, in effect, zoning changes) the prospect of industrial strength wineries in rural neighborhoods will not be limited to places like the Holmes Ranch. You can bet that no rural residential neighborhood will be safe from commercial intrusion and industrial wineries complete with commercial tasting, retail sales rooms and T-shirt shops will be coming to a neighborhood near you.
There are many locations along the 128 wine corridor where the small vintners can get together and serve tasters without sullying our Sunday afternoons at home. Write to the planning commission before December 1, 1999 and tell them to keep County rural residential living free of commercialization. Your input is important. Mark December 2, 1999 on your calendar. Attend the meeting. Let’s not sacrifice every last shred of our privacy and peace to the great god Commerce. Let’s resolve to stride into the 21st Century with renewed purpose to preserve our beautiful Valley. It would be a sad business to look back, in regret, on our lost tranquillity.