Friday, October 3, 2014

Robert's Letter to the Sonoma Board of Supervisors

Hello Board members,

I would like to offer you my observations when to counter VOTMA’s continued attempt to kill, or severely limit, the wine industry in Sonoma County

I would like to remind you of the Sonoma County General Plan adopted in 1968. That plan called for the eventual population of Kenwood to be 40,000 people and highway 12 to be a four lane separated highway. You can imagine how differently that environment would be if this plan had come to fruition. Sonoma Valley would have been housing from one ridge line to the other.

Why didn’t this happen? It didn’t happen because of the wine industry. It didn’t happen because the land kept being down zoned in favor of agriculture, thanks to the wisdom of your predecessors and the will of the people of Sonoma County. It didn’t happen because vineyards saved the land like no other sort of agriculture could afford to do. Wineries buy all those grapes grown by all those vineyards that saved us from all those houses and all those cars and all that pollution and all that water use. 40,000 people in Kenwood would have used a lot more water than the vineyards and wineries do. They would have generated much more traffic. You don’t have to be a genius to know this to be true.

Wineries must sell their wine directly to consumers to make ends meet. Speaking for Deerfield, when we sell wine through a distributor, who then sells it to a retailer to sell to the public we make 38% gross profit. When we sell it directly to consumers we make 72% gross profit. The difference makes the difference if we make money or loss money. These percentages are gross profit, not net. Last year we made less than 5% net profit, even with the sales directly to consumers. We alone, just one small winery, support incomes from as many as 30 vineyard owning families and more than a dozen families associated directly with the winery. We are green and clean and most of our land is open habitat. We are not alone in our local industry for this kind of responsibility. It is the general rule rather than the exception. Wineries are green, they don’t pollute and use little water, compared to housing or other industries. Vineyards produce oxygen and clean the air, like forests. Almost all the vineyards in Sonoma are now sustainably grown, a much higher ratio I am told than any other agricultural use or industry.

Sonoma County is a tourist Mecca, not just for the wines but everything else that this wonderful county offers, and looking at houses isn’t one of them. Would we want to trade all this for the alternative envisioned by your predecessors in 1968? I think not. I don’t know without looking it up how much revenue Sonoma County tourism adds to our local economy but I don’t think anything else comes close. I know you have those figures. The wine industry is a integral part of this success and an integral part in keeping agriculture the central theme of Sonoma County.

The county already limits events at wineries. The county already reviews and permits every winery and every tasting room. Caltrans and the county requires traffic studies and left turn lanes where they are necessary for wineries. The road improvements paid for by wineries benefits everyone, not just the wineries. The stop light at Madrone Road and Highway 12, paid for entirely by the Hamel Family Winery benefits everyone. In fact, if there was a winery being built at four corners, where we desperately need a stop light, a stop light would go in, paid for by the winery. Let’s let a winery go in on that corner so we can all benefit from a stop light there.

Don’t kill the golden goose. We have it better with the vineyards and wineries than almost any valley in the greater Bay Area. Don’t let the late comers organized by VOTMA, without anyone’s vote, sway you to believe that vineyards and wineries are a bad thing. Just bring up the General Plan of 1968 and decide which future is better.

Thank God for the wine industry. It saved Sonoma.