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Lorraine Devon Wilke Headshot

May We Suggest a Pinot With That Redwood Forest?

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How much is a good Pinot worth? Depending on the establishment, a glass can run anywhere from $5.00 to $30.00, a bottle from $25.00 on the very low end to upwards of $123,899 if you ask for 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti (with a name that long you'd expect to pay big bucks!).

What you wouldn't expect is the latest MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) on Pinot from the gorgeous, natural environs of Sonoma County in Northern California. Are you sitting down? That Pinot, ladies and gentlemen, is going to run you around 1600-plus acres of freshly mowed-down Redwood forest.

That must be some wine.

Yep, it seems whetted wine drinkers the world over simply can't get enough of the California Pinot grape and so Napa vineyards Artesa (owned by Spain-based wine producers, Codorniu) and Premier Pacific -- both anxious for passionate Pinot commerce -- put their heads together, scouted the grape-friendly nooks and crannies of nearby regions and came up with the stellar proposal to deforest those pristine acres of majestic Redwoods and Douglas Firs in the small town of Annapolis in Sonoma County, CA; a heretofore remote area teeming with protected wildlife, the crystalline clear waterways of the Gualala River, and hills and dales of lush forest.

Now that sounds like an area ripe for destruction, doesn't it? Ironically, they're calling it Preservation Ranch. No, really.

According to a Los Angeles Times article of 8/25, A Tale of Grape versus Redwood, the response by Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission President, Nick Frey, to the query of "why there?" was: "It's an area of second-growth trees and the whole area, the wine industry here in Sonoma County, has been growing."

Oh, I see.

I guess almost 2000 acres of second growth trees doesn't have quite the cachet of first or old growth forests, is that right, Mr. Frey? Forget the fact that the only reason it's "second growth" is because a successful recovery is underway after the ravages of earlier logging efforts.

Look, I appreciate that people love wine and wine is a growth industry and counties need jobs, and fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and money makes the world go 'round, but why is it that in spite of ALL other available land in the behemoth state of California, much of it, no doubt, also friendly to the finicky Pinot grape, Artesa and Premier Pacific feel compelled to choose a spot that is home to a large and sensitive ecosystem of flora, fauna and fish to plow down for the sake of grapes? Reflect on the phrase "money makes the world go 'round" and you've pretty much got it.

According to the LA Times article, "One wine getting attention, particularly among restaurant sommeliers, is Pinot Noir.... there is a certain amount of cachet to Pinot Noirs made along the Sonoma Coast." And since Pinot Noir from Sonoma can be sold a bit cheaper than a Cabernet from Napa, whoops, there goes another Redwood tree plant.

The Sonoma brand name. Worth some big, fat, forest-leveling bucks.

People, have we forgotten the lessons of the past?! Remember how concerned we all were about the deforestation of the Amazon rain forest? The documentaries, rock concerts, Sting carrying on, and all that pro-active hooting and hollering about the destruction of what is now almost 20% of an ecosystem described as the "lungs of our planet"? We HAVE forgotten or we could never stand idly by while wealthy winegrowers and commerce-oriented commissions and business folk ignore the greater impact of their bottom line.

Hard to believe that just eleven short years ago there was another Los Angeles Times article, Historic Deal Is Based on Trees' Value in Environment, heralding the "landmark" deal made when Pacific Forest Trust of Santa Rosa, CA, "sold $6000 worth of 'carbon emissions reduction credits' to Green Mountain Energy Co., a Texas-based energy provider that sells power from environmentally friendly sources." A pittance, surely, as compared to the millions Artesa and Pacific Premier stand to make post-deforestation, but the spirit and global understanding of the symbiotic relationship between trees and the greater good of the environment was at least honored in that agreement:

When trees perform photosynthesis, they emit oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping "greenhouse gas," to make their bark, roots, branches and leaves.

Environmentalists increasingly argue forests play a useful role in reducing the risk of climate change, which many scientists believe has been aggravated by emissions of carbon dioxide through the burning of fossil fuels.

The potential sale of photosynthesis may give trees a new lease on life by establishing a value for standing forests independent of their worth as cut timber.

Forest loss is thought to be the second largest source of world carbon-dioxide emissions, next to the burning of fossil fuels. Trees release stored carbon dioxide when they die. The idea of such purchases is to leave the forests standing.

No small thing, trees.

We've got an earnest task in today's culture, an assignment to clarify and decide just how big or small we want our picture to be. Yes, jobs are needed, unemployment must shrink for the good of the global economy; wise utilization of resources is a must. But there is also an essential responsibility to widen the scope of our concerns to honestly see the long-term impact of the solutions we choose for our immediate problems. Growing a "wine economy" may offer jobs, income and tremendous wealth for a local few, but is destroying a life-sustaining, pristine and irreplaceable forest the moral, ethical and, ultimately, best long-term choice for everyone else?

I don't think so.

Tom Adams, a Preservation Ranch official, made the inexplicable comment, "These forests can be cleared and preserved at the same time," and that struck me as emblematic of the delusional double-speak of too many who can't -- or won't -- make their picture any bigger than the myopia of self-service. The truth is, we cannot destroy and save our planet at the same time. We cannot put all our focus on now at the expense of later. We have to make choices, wise choices, long-lasting, global-preserving choices that find the right balance and sustain us all for as long as the planet is here to house our economies, families, industries, jobs and dreams.

Take a deep breath. "Lungs of the planet," those trees. There for us all. Even the Pinot drinkers.

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Other resources:

Preservation Ranch Application Overview

Sonoma County Democratic Party's opposition of record.

Gualala River response.

Sierra Club response.

Feelin' environmentally feisty? Let your thoughts be known:

Premier Pacific contact information.

Artesa Winery contact information.

Codorniu Spain contact information.

Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission contact information.

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