The phrase “unintended consequences” usually implies negative results—and that is what Sandra Ericson recently wrote about in an opinion piece in our local newspaper. Ericson is a former member of the Planning Commission and chair of the city’s Climate Protection Task Force in St. Helena, California, in the Napa Valley.
The focus of her piece is on the negative effects of expanding wineries. She points out that instead of vineyards being part of a balanced agriculture in California and Oregon, they have displaced orchards, truck farms, and wheat fields. The vineyards have become tourist centers, overtaxing roads and other infrastructure. They have required more hotels and taken a share of the hotel taxes. They tend to push middleclass residents out of the area to make room for the 1 percent.
Another set of problems is water. During the droughts, the vineyards have had to drill deeper wells, draining the aquifers. She also notes that growers deforest hillsides to plant more vines; and vineyards absorb carbon at a rate of 1.5 compared to trees at 85.
One of the truly bizarre issues Ericson mentions is that in the U.S. a foreign investor can obtain a “green card” (permanent resident status) for investing $1 million in agriculture. But it is only $500,000 if one invests in a vineyard. Who knew you could actually buy a green card at all?
One last issue is how “boutique” wineries become absorbed into corporate agriculture. They are bought up as investments by both U.S. and foreign investors with no care about the local community. In other words, the profits are taken from the community, but the consequences to water resources, climate, animal habitat, infrastructure, and the local economy are not dealt with by those who profit from it.