Thursday, March 26, 2009

Right choice to approve Jackson's new winery

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors just approved Jess Jackson's newest winery, Pelton House on Hwy 128 in Knight's Valley. Now Knights Valley is a beautiful place, but there's been a bad case of NIMBY-ism there for the past several years. (For those unacquainted with the term, NIMBY = Not In My BackYard...)

I think they made the right decision for several reasons, some of which I'll get to shortly.

A rather vocal anti-winery / anti-tasting room group organized mainly from residents of the small valley has tried to get the project shot down since the first whispered plans were making their way around the community. They quickly rallied together, and over the years have made their case known to pretty much anyone who would listen. A few years ago I'd talked with a couple who lived in the area about the issue, and they had nothing to say that was good about Jackson's plans. In fact, they were most concerned about how the winery would become a Mecca for drunken tourists who would then cause all sorts of accidents, and the possibility that there would be huge parties held there throughout the year. Also, that the area was an agricultural area, not a commercial one. (To buy into that argument you have to ignore the fact that vineyards ARE commercial agricultural enterprises...harvest already sees large trucks on that road hauling MANY TONS of grapes to various wineries from the local residents' properties, so it's not really the quiet little lane that opponents made it out to be.)

The proposed site is right on the road, amid many other vineyards in the valley (a large one belonging to Beringer Vineyards is about 1.5 miles west of the project). The key point the residents group were trying to use to get the approval derailed was the fact that there are no other tasting rooms open to the public (without appointment) in the immediate area. Peter Michael Winery is just west of the site, but it is open by appointment only.

The opponents are right to point out that the road is only two lane and has some winding and sharp turns on it - but how many roads in Sonoma County don't fit that description? Not many...
Beyond that point, how do they justify their narrow view that it's ok for residents to have a drink or two and navigate that road, and that same scenario isn't ok for tourists? And what about the residents right to have large private parties at their own properties without the restrictions like those placed on Jackson's project? (The approval of the project limits the number of parties they can have to 4 events per year, with a 200 person max attendance each.)

The residents really risked nothing in their opposition to this, as any of them could go to the Board for a permit in the future looking for approval to open up their own property as a winery/tasting room...if they went that route I think they'd be arguing that their (resident's) project was "a small mom & pop operation", and try to exclude Jackson merely based on the size of his holdings overall. There hasn't been a conversation I was party to where the resident/opponent DIDN'T mention the fact that K-J was a 6+ Million case operation, and how they (K-J) DIDN'T NEED another winery, and certainly not in that area....
And I don't recall ever hearing about anyone approaching Jess Jackson with the deal that residents would give up their right to develop tasting rooms or wineries in exchange for Jackson withdrawing his application...and that strikes me as somewhat hypocritical on their part (please correct me in the comments if this was in fact offered but rejected by prepared to give specifics in support of that claim). I also heard from about a dozen concerned opponents over the years that the original K-J plan was for a much larger production facility and "round the year" events - but this has never been confirmed to me by people who work within the company that I know...which isn't to say that wasn't the case, I just have no information to support that point.

The vineyards for the project are seen here from the west on a road leading up the side of Mt. St. Helena. They look pretty quiet and tame, if you ask me, and I seriously doubt the impact from an operation which is producing only ~5,000 cases of wine a year is really going to be felt by the residents to the extent they've complained about it. I think the winery itself will be positioned back in the trees on the lower left of the photo, and wouldn't impact the visual beauty of either the valley or the fact, if I understand correctly, the site I have pictured is the same one that the Friends of Mark West Watershed have pictured from 2005 stating it was already graded for the new winery (looks like they were actually clearing it for a vineyard)...
Their article states that "Knights Valley Loses to Jackson Winery" after the Board listened to a whole room of opposing residents and concerned citizens, making the whole scene sound like the issue was bought off by big business. I wonder if any of the local residents' properties were opposed by such a vocal group when they were looking to get permitted for their vineyard plantings....?

Of course not. They're the "David(s)" and K-J is the "Goliath", which is evil, has no repentance, conscience or doubt, and must therefore be "destroyed" by the locals due solely to its size. Bah!

BTW, the wines that have been released to date seem to be performing pretty well: I've seen at least one review of 2004 Cab which garnered a 93 pt score for Wine & Spirits, and a 91 pt score from Stephen it doesn't look like just another run-of-the-mill winery.

The Knights Valley is a beautiful place, as I said above, but it shouldn't be looked at like it was soooo pristine it couldn't hold together after being violated by a winery with a public tasting room you don't need an appointment for.
It's NOT like we're talking about oil drilling in the freakin' ANWR for chrissakes!

Kudos to the Board for approving the project with some restrictions which should adequately address the residents concerns while not impeding progress....


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