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Vineyard owners shape environmental policy

  • Reyes Gomez spreads hay to inhibit erosion at Simi Winery's Landslide vineyard, owned by Constellation Brands, east of Healdsburg. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

The wine companies that dominate the vineyard landscape in Sonoma County frequently have played a weighty role in shaping public and environmental policies in the region.

As the industry amassed greater land holdings in the 1990s during a planting boom that nearly doubled the vineyard acreage in Sonoma County, regulators saw the need to tighten the rules on how farmers use the county's land and water.

Search our interactive map of Sonoma County vineyards here

Sonoma County Vineyards: Who Are The Players?

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Growers from top companies like Rodney Strong Vineyards and Silverado Premium Properties were there every step of the way to shape the rules on how farmers use water from the Russian River and how vineyards are planted on hillsides.

“A lot of the small growers can't afford to hire the lawyers to make a difference in policies on the state and even national level,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, which represents 1,500 grape growers in the county. “A lot of the larger growers have stepped in and hired government relations folks that can help the industry.”

As younger generations have assumed leadership roles in top companies like Jackson Family Wines, they're increasing the focus on sustainable farming, said Honore Comfort, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners, a trade group that represents local wineries.

“Those developments are important not only for the region, but for our entire industry,” Comfort said.

Hillside planting

When a wave of new applications for hillside vineyards rushed in for county approval in 2012, newly appointed Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar stepped in to halt the developments until the decade-old rules were updated.

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