Winemaker Paul Hobbs, repeat offender, violates agreements again

newspaperColumn by Shepherd Bliss

This neighbor drives by Paul Hobbs’ new Watertrough Road vineyard in the Sebastopol countryside many days each week on the way to town. The vineyard borders on five schools with around 700 students.

Bright wildflowers and vibrant grasses recently appeared in the rows between his young grape vines. Perhaps Hobbs had decided to change his colors, as he agreed to do so as part of a $100,000 settlement with Sonoma County. It could have fined him millions of dollars for his repeated violations in at least three cases, including causing soil erosion into a creek off Watertrough and clear-cutting redwood trees without permits.

Alas, last week the plants were brown and dying. Then emails arrived from other neighbors and parents, who formed the Watertrough Childrens Alliance (WCA) back in 2013. They had seen someone in protective covering and a mask spraying from a tractor and tank early on March 20, a school day.

WCA had scheduled a barn sale that weekend to help raise funds for an ongoing lawsuit against Hobbs. So this neighbor went and listened to an animated discussion on what was happening and how to respond to it.

“I love our Orchard View School, which my son attends. He is very sensitive to chemicals,” commented Hilary Avalon. “It would be a shame if we had to leave the school for something like this invasive process. If CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) had been applied, this spraying might not have happened. The schools are impacted and my child is affected. The law needs to be strengthened.”

Winemaker Paul Hobbs broke promises again on a windy school day. He had agreed not to spray without informing Apple Blossom and the other four schools on Watertrough within 24 hours before spraying, so that families could be alerted. He failed to inform them, as promised.

Concerned rural neighbors made the following comment, all requesting  anonymity:

“Hobbs has so much money. He is on a power trip. We don’t trust him. If we could get him to really go sustainable, that would be good.”

“We smelled the pesticides on two different days, early in the morning. They had a small tank that they were spraying from.”

“They put in a big pump for water. It sucks our wells dry. The last time a nearby vineyard put in a well to irrigate, our wells went down.” All this in California’s fourth year of drought, when residents are asked to conserve water, whereas Hobbs can use as much as he wants.

“After they cut the apple orchard, there are now more winds. He also took out a redwood grove. We get a wind tunnel all summer long. I have to wipe the dust off every day.”

“Taking out the apple trees was horrible. This big giant equipment ripped out the trees and turned them into dust.”

“Hobbs promised to communicate to Superintendent Barbara Bickford about when he would spray, but he did not.”

“At least one child was sent home sick.”

“I developed a low-grade headache from the spraying.”

“I call this Hobbs toxic playground,” said one grandmother.

“The head of the school board is concerned by this spraying. They will meet on April 9 at 4:30.”

“Round-up was recently classified as cancer-causing, which might have been what Hobbs used.”

“Hobbs wine is full of pesticides. It comes at the cost of children’s health and redwoods.”

“Hobbs promised to not spray until next year.”

“Hobbs had a great opportunity to do the right thing, which he blew.”

“This is Hobbs saying FU to the community again.”

“Our technical case for a permit violation by Hobbs was not dismissed on March 2,” an observer of WCA’s court case commented. “The judge agreed to make a ruling in 90 days. Hobbs agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that he would give 24 hours of notice before spraying, which he did not do in this case.”

San Francisco’s North Bay large winemakers routinely violate the weak rules regarding their practices and are seldom fined, according to the daily Press Democrat, March 11, 2015. Those rules need to be enforced and strengthened, especially as we enter an even more-dry drought.

The Economist magazine reports that it takes around 30 gallons of water to make one glass of wine. Water is used for many purposes, including irrigation, cleaning, and frost protection. Whereas Hobbs’ wine costs up to $300 dollars a bottle, he extracts groundwater for free, while the rest of us are encouraged to conserve.

At press time, it remained unclear what Hobbs was spraying. Perhaps it was Round-Up. According to a March 21 AP story from London, recent studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) document that its use can cause cancer: “One of the world’s most popular weed-killers — and the most widely used kind in the U.S. — has been labeled a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.”

Fortunately, there remains many hard-working, local, ethical grape-growers and winemakers who do follow the law. Some are even organic and biodynamic and work to preserve the environment, rather than assault it, as Hobbs does.

WCA has a flyer with the words “Don’t Spray Where We Play” at the top. It continues, “Take a Stand to Stop Pesticide Drift on our Playgrounds.”

For those not wanting to purchase such tainted wine, Hobbs sells wine under his own name, as well as under the labels Crossbarn and Vina Cabas. More information is available at www.facebook.com/BoycottPaulHobbsWines.

Donations to WCA can be made by visiting http://wcachildren.org/donate/. They can also by made by PayPal tohttp://owlfoundation.net/OWL.htm or by a check to O.W.L. Foundation, 1390 McDowell Blvd # G306, Petaluma, CA. 94954 with WCA on the check.

Shepherd Bliss {3sb@comcast.net} teaches college, farms, and has contributed to 24 books.



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