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Sierra Daily

Aug 29, 2011

Forest or Vine

It’s the kind of to-the-point bumper sticker that’ll make even entitled wine snobs stop the Lexus and think. “Don’t Drink Chainsaw Wine” is the message of  Friends of the Gualala River, a scrappy all-volunteer conservation group in rural northwestern Sonoma County, California, that is trying to block two wineries’ plans to replace redwood forest with pinot noir vines.

Despite the down economy, the winery business is remaking Northern California’s coastal ranges. Writes the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat: “Vineyard expansion over the past two decades has more than doubled the bearing acreage for wine grapes in Sonoma County to nearly 57,000, and pushed the regional tally — including Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties — up by about 75 percent, to more than 111,000 acres.”

The 1,900 acres to be cleared for pinot, vineyard supporters, er, whine, is only second-growth redwood: 95 percent of the region’s original redwoods were logged years ago, and the lands in question are former timber company properties. But saying a 75-year-old redwood is worthy of sacrifice may be missing the point that they are well on their way to becoming 300-year-old redwoods. As Chris Poehlmann, head of Friends of the Gualala River, recently told the Los Angeles Times (in an article aptly titled “Redwoods Versus Red Wine”), “These vineyards are biological deserts. It's worse than a clear cut. This is permanent conversion from a natural landscape and it has its consequences.”

-- Reed McManus

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