Let’s stop a bad thing from happening for a good reason: saving a historic California vineyard

In a classic case of a bad consequence to an otherwise-good idea, 14 acres of Californian vineyard planted in the 1880’s are at risk of being bulldozed in the course of environmental restoration.

The Environmental Impact Report on the Dutch Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Project, which plans to restore 1178 acres of farmland to tidal marsh around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, is currently open for comment. To sign a petition asking for a 14-acre exception for the historic Carignane vineyard, go here.

Reasons why this matters:

1. The vines and vineyard represent agricultural techniques (sustainable, non-irrigated farming) valuable as both a historical and a practical lesson.

2. Carignane vines used to be common in California, but are now rare. This vineyard is a living testament to what the pre-prohibition California wine industry looked like.

3. Viticulture researchers look at grape genetics to understand why vines work the way they do and how we can make them work better. Jim Wolpert, the preeminent California viticulturist, argued that these vines represent a unique and useful source of grape genetic material in the letter he wrote to the project directors. Once that material is gone, it’s gone.

The petition organizers have compiled a much longer and more detailed list of reasons to preserve the vineyard.

The Tidal Marsh Restoration Project is, on the whole, a really excellent thing. 1178 acres of fields bordering Oakley that would otherwise have been turned into asphalt and concrete instead being turned into tidal marsh — wetlands where streams and rivers meet the sea — with adjacent “shaded channels, native grasslands, and riparian forests,” according to the project description. If you live in a coastal state, you probably toured a tidal marsh as a school kid; they’re incredible habitats for all manner of birds and fish and amphibians and insects and what-not (your teacher may have called it an estuary; they’re overlapping categories). The Environmental Protection Agency says that tidal marshes even help regulate water flow during drought-flood cycles because they’re big, flattish spaces that tolerate a lot of water rising and falling. Bacteria in marshes improve water quality by processing fertilizer run-off, too.

All of this is great for local native wildlife, increasingly being pushed out — and let’s be blunt about it: killed and threatened with extinction — when developers build fancy high-rises over their habitats.

BUT: 14 acres in the middle of this area-to-be-restored contain some of the oldest vines in California. Those vines are irreplaceable. We can conserve the vines and otherwise proceed with the restoration project.

Saving the vineyard isn’t about the wine industry versus environmentalism. This isn’t about money. It’s about the value of conserving history, about recognizing that historic vineyards merit the same consideration as historic buildings and other monuments, and about not doing irreversible things today that we’re going to regret in the future. I’d encourage you to sign the petition, send a comment to Patty Finfrock at Patricia.Finfrock@water.ca.gov, and help stop a bad thing from happening for a good reason.

6 thoughts on “Let’s stop a bad thing from happening for a good reason: saving a historic California vineyard

  1. Don’t all vines eventually get too old to produce commercial quantities of grapes? Do carignan grapes have much value to begin with? These vines will die or become useless soon, no? Aren’t there several other patches of vines in California that date to the 1880’s that would be left? Trees and plants are renewable.

    Just checking. These are mostly rhetorical questions … I agree, it seems like a stupid idea … it would be a shame to see the vineyard go, but at least it’s not a coral reef or something even more important.

    I think you are right to oppose the restoration – it’s just 14 acres of the 1,200. Furthermore, elected politicians often act against the wishes of the majority of their constituents.

    Rick Schofield
    Port Ewen, NY

    • Rick, I definitely don’t think that the value of this vineyard is in producing commercial grapes. I have no idea how long these vines might live — grapevine lifespan varies dramatically with location, type, care, etc. — and that’s an excellent question and an excellent point. As for the relative value of a vineyard versus a coral reef, that’s a real question to me, and one bigger than I’m capable of answering. On the whole, though, I concur.

  2. A slight design change can incorporate these vineyards into the final restoration project. Several large scale projects such as the Cosumnus River Preserve incorporates agricultural production such as rice farming to support summertime wildlife habitat for GGS and wetlands during the winter for migratory bird habitat. Environmental projects can be designed to coexist with farming and be mutually beneficial to one another. Check out Preston Vineyards in Sonoma County. They have dobe some amizing work with habitat restoration and grape growing.

  3. Sorry, coral reefs are far more important on every level than a vineyard, there should be no confusion there. Also, these are not indigenous plant materials. We’re not talking about Redwoods, they’re grapevines that were brought here from Europe, so not indigenous.

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