Napa grape war: Zoned private land vs. neighbors

- A 10-year-old proposal to plant more grapes in Napa County has turned into a battle pitting the vineyard owners against some neighbors and environmental groups. 

It is a fight over the limits of land ownership. Other Napa land owners are paying keen attention to the outcome as more vineyards are planned.

It has taken Hall Winery, owner of the 2,300 acre Walt Ranch, a decade to gain approval to plant 200 acres of mountain side grapes. The property sits in a designated agricultural district where the planting of grapes is encouraged.

"The county has studied every possible environmental impact that you can imagine: trees, plants, wildlife and they concluded that the project will have no significant impact," says Mike Reynolds, Hall Winery President.

Though final approval came on August first, environmental and land use groups, along with some down slope neighbors want the Board of Supervisors to say no to the vineyard at Friday's Board meeting.

"The concern on this side: mostly the increased heavy truck traffic, which would be going through our community and also them tapping into a water aquifer that could go dry at any time," says Lowry Seva, a Circle Oaks resident who lives down slope from the proposed vineyard.

"This project is truly horrifying because it's going to cause the chopping down of 15,000 trees in a remote mountainous region of Napa County. In that way it's very unlike your regular vineyard project," says environmentalist J.P Rose of the Center For Biological Diversity.

Environmental groups also cite potential harm to threatened frog species and potential fertilizer and pesticide contamination of Napa's Milliken Reservoir from the river running through the proposed vineyard. 

But the winery counters that there will be no vast clear cut vineyard, instead a patchwork of many.   
"It is a number of small blocks that avoid the environmental constraints that are on the property," says winery president Reynolds.

Napa Supervisors will hear both sides tomorrow morning. "We're fighting it obviously.  They have a lot of money, I'm sure. I would just go myself to show the people we can work something out, hopefully.  If not, stop it altogether," says homeowner Seva.

No matter what the Board decides, odds are it will still end up in front of a judge.

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