Letter: Vineyard project needs more transparency, scrutiny


Letter: Vineyard project needs more transparency, scrutiny

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by Laurie Claudon 

As my husband and I wind down our family-run wine business and prepare for retirement, I’ve been reflecting on the past 35 years on Howell Mountain. I’ve grown to appreciate our decision to plant just 16 acres of vineyards while keeping most of our property in its natural state. This has benefited not just our family business but my grandchildren and the generations to come.

When we started our winery in the 1980s, not many people were talking about developing the community in a sustainable way. Nowadays combating the climate crisis is a top concern, not just for those who love the wild like me, but for anyone worried about rising temperatures, damaging wildfires, and depleted water supplies.

These problems are both global and very Napa-specific, and they demand global and local solutions.

Here in Napa, the KJS & Sorrento vineyard project recently won tentative approval from the Napa County planning department. The project would destroy 100 acres of grasslands and oak woodlands off Sage Canyon Road in St. Helena to make way for more hillside vineyards.

Development in the Elder Creek watershed, which flows into Lake Hennessy, would pollute the local water supply with agricultural runoff and sediment. Bulldozing hillside trees and vegetation would eliminate their ability to store carbon, worsening the climate crisis.

Why are our policy makers still making decisions in 2024 that contribute to a warming climate?

There might have been a time when communities, unaware of the climate emergency, would be amenable to a project like this. But knowing what we know now, with a climate reality this dire, the county made a bad call. Our Board of Supervisors need to rectify it.

I hope this project eventually gets the scrutiny it deserves from our elected leaders, some of whom are just as concerned about sustainability in Napa as I am.

In November the Napa County Board of Supervisors rejected Le Colline, another hillside vineyard project that carried big risks. The two proposals are alike in many ways.

They both involve tearing up the habitat of birds, frogs, deer, and other wild species for a vineyard project that could contaminate our local water supply with pesticides, silt and nitrogen fixing fertilizers. But while Le Colline had a relatively small footprint of 28 acres, the KJS & Sorrento’s project totals more than 970 acres, including more than 110 acres for vineyards.

KJS & Sorrento deserves the same thorough review as Le Colline, with a public hearing that allows for transparency and public discourse. Concerned neighbors should be able to get some honest answers about why a project that will destroy Napa’s natural resources and biodiversity is a good fit. Tom and I will soon retire from our wine business but our commitment to this community is as strong as ever. Napa is one of a kind and it’s our responsibility to act now to make sure its agriculture, amazing biodiversity and natural resources remain sustainable for future generations both human and wild.

Laurie Claudon Owner,
Clark-Claudon Vineyards