Artesa Vineyards and Winery, owned by Spanish wine corporate giant Codorníu, is now the only California vineyard developer with permits in place to clear-cut coastal redwood forest and grade the soils to construct a sprawling vineyard, roads, and reservoirs in their place.
The 173 acre Artesa-Sonoma vineyard project in Annapolis, in remote northwestern Sonoma County, was authorized by CalFire in 2012 to proceed with deforestation of the project site that lies within a rich and unique archaeological complex of Pomo village and camp sites.
Only a lawsuit over the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project, filed by Friends of the Gualala River, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity, is currently (2013) delaying the clear-cutting.
Since the permit process for the 20,000-acre Preservation Ranch development (totaling over 1600 acres of vineyards) was withdrawn earlier in 2013, the Artesa-Sonoma project is the only forest-to-vineyard conversion project poised to proceed in California. If Artesa Vineyards does not voluntarily withdraw the project under public protest, it will open the door to innumerable permits to clear-cut coastal California forests for more vineyards. The EIR lawsuit is only a temporary barrier to the project's implementation.
The environmental impacts of the project itself would be severe, and so is the permit precedent for proliferation of Artesa-like vineyard deforestation projects. The grading of the project would clear-cut 154 acres of mixed redwood and Douglas-fir forest that is regenerating from devastation of the unregulated post-war tractor logging era. It would grade away the soils that supported Native American inhabitants for at least seven thousand years, reducing “cultural preservation” to a mockery of fenced-off individual artifact locations in a matrix of vineyard rows.
The Tribal Council of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians of the Stewarts Point Rancheria is on record as opposing the project because it threatens “…our watershed, forests, sacred sites, and tribal archeological sites and cultural resources that are of cultural and religious significance to the Tribe.”
Dr. Peter Schmidt, Professor of Anthropology and Archeology, stated in 2010 that “…recent destruction of these Native American settlements and other sites has occurred as a consequence of vineyard development that necessitates the ripping of soils with bulldozers equipped with vertical forks that penetrate deeply to destroy ancient sites, permanently removing any knowledge of the past.”
The biological impacts of the project are cumulative. Routine annual applications of herbicides & pesticides would become the norm for the local Patchett Creek watershed that drains to the Gualala, adding to the load from vineyard sprawl that erupted over a decade ago, following Kendall-Jackson's groundbreaking large vineyard project further east along Annapolis Road.
The vineyard will capture rainwater runoff in reservoirs for irrigation and develop unregulated wells to tap groundwater. When challenged that vineyard well pumping would significantly impact groundwater that sustains the river and its fish and wildlife, Artesa incredibly declared that the unregulated well water would be used for “domestic use” only, and not vineyard irrigation and frost protection!
Replicated over the Sonoma and Mendocino coast landscape, permitting of this Artesa-Sonoma project would result in a checkerboard of permanent clear-cuts in coastal forestland as more international financial investment fuels a new generation of Artesa-type projects.
Public opposition to the project has been intense and sustained. Over 92,000 people signed a petition opposing the Artesa and Preservation Ranch projects.
Even more alarming for the Spanish corporation (Codorníu) promoting the project, over 37,000 Spaniards signed a petition asking Codorníu “not to destroy forests to produce their wines.”
Neither Codorníu nor Artesa made any reply to the petitions, other than issuing a bizarre denial that there were no more than a few redwood trees left on the property! Artesa either willfully deceived the public, or was ignorant that redwoods regenerate and mature after falling — unless the stumps and soils are graded away, which is exactly what Artesa plans to do.
The Artesa-Sonoma project history follows a similar path of unbridled speculation in vineyard development that spawned, and later finished, Preservation Ranch.
In 2001, as the peak of the premium California wine market bubble was approaching, Artesa Napa vineyards submitted a permit application to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (now CalFire) to clear-cut 105 acres of redwood forest in Annapolis, Sonoma County — a smaller area than the later Environmental Impact Report proposed (171 acres) and what Artesa currently proposes (154 acres).
Neither Artesa nor CalFire conducted any serious environmental review of the initial proposal: they completed a cursory environmental checklist with boxes for existing cultural and environmental impacts all checked “no,” without explanation — including a box for impacts to Native American archeological and cultural resources.
CalFire & Artesa were forced to prepare an EIR after Friends of the Gualala River successfully sued CalFire on several other local Annapolis vineyard conversions being permitted without EIRs.
In 2004, Artesa withdrew the 105-acre permit application and replaced it with a larger 171 acre project for review under an EIR, even though the purpose of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is to minimize impacts to the environment. Artesa never explained the reason for increasing the project size by almost a third of the original size. Then the Artesa EIR process mysteriously left public sight for over four years.
In 2009, the Draft EIR for Artesa was released. Its defects were so severe that even Artesa and CalFire decided to recirculate a new draft of the EIR, focusing on the failure of the first draft EIR to deal with impacts to Native American heritage (archaeology and cultural resources) and climate change/greenhouse gas emissions.
The revised draft EIR was released in 2011, failing to make any substantial corrections to the significant environmental impacts that were grossly underestimated or glossed over in the original draft EIR. CalFire approved the final EIR in May 2012 and gave notice that it would approve the project.
Codorníu and Artesa-Sonoma have ignored the 92,000 signature on-line petition against this project, and they have ignored the fate of Preservation Ranch, and what its demise indicates about public outrage over deforestation for premium wine.
A second wave of public protest, in social media, news media, on-line, and political, is anticipated by many opposing organizations during the lawsuit over the Artesa-Sonoma EIR.
Courtesy, Friends of the Gualala River, www.gualalariver.org.