Napa County’s Walt Ranch ‘disappointed’ by vineyard lawsuit

Officials at Walt Ranch say they are disappointed two environmental groups have gone to court to challenge the environmental approvals for their vineyard project.

Mike Reynolds, president of Hall Wines, which owns the property, said Monday that environmental groups have not been willing to meet and discuss the project with plans to clear about 300 acres to plant vines between the city of Napa and Lake Berryessa.

Last month, the county of Napa approved the plan. “It’s the most exhaustive environmental study done in the history of Napa County, and probably all of California,” he said.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club are suing the county for its approval of the large vineyard development in the mountains east of the city of Napa, on the slopes of Atlas Peak.

The suit says the project will tear up more than 300 acres of undisturbed trees and grassland habitat and convert it into vineyards sprawled across the 2,300-acre Walt Ranch property.

The project was approved by the Napa County Board of Supervisors, after the Center, the Sierra Club, and three other entities had filed appeals to the project, which were subsequently denied by the board.

The appeals addressed environmental concerns that reflect a growing concern about vineyards spreading to the hillsides of Napa. Similar concerns have been addressed by Napa Vision 2050, who has accused the board of supervisors of rubber-stamping new wineries and vineyards.

“That’s what happens here,” said Dan Mufson of the advocacy group.

The lawsuit outlines Napa County’s violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, including inadequate review of the proposed vineyard’s impacts on wildlife, water supply and greenhouse gases. The lawsuit also raises concerns over the construction and alteration of more than 20 miles of roads and fencing that will reduce habitat connectivity and restrict wildlife movement; the use of harmful pesticides; the drawdown of local groundwater aquifers; and other activities that it says will impair water quality in streams crucial to the survival of local salmon, reptiles and amphibians.

“If this luxury vineyard goes in, thousands of trees will be cut down, acres of wildlife habitat will be destroyed, new roads will be built, and limited water supplies will be depleted,” said Aruna Prabhala, director of The Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “The project is the step in the wrong direction for the county, and the local community and wildlife will pay the price.”

The controversial project has been in the planning for about 10 years, and, due to environmental groups’ concerns, has been reduced from the original plans by about 42 percent.

Walt Ranch has maintained that the project will have minimal affect on the surrounding area. Reynolds has emphasized that although 14,000 trees will be removed, by bulldozer, 94 percent of the trees on the acreage will remain untouched. The trees will be replaced by 250,000 grape vines.

The project is slated to begin in the spring, building reservoirs and roads.

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at or call 707-521-4259.

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