Redwoods or Red Wine: Which is More Valuable in California?

When do trees become a forest? According to a California winemaker who wants to clear cut 154 acres of redwoods and Douglas firs to make way for grapevines, not until they’re more than 50-years-old and 100 feet tall.

Demand for cooler climate wines, like pinot noir, has grown over the past decade. As climate change causes California’s interior valleys to heat up, vineyards have begun to eyeball the cooler regions of Northern California and Southern Oregon–coincidentally the same limited regions where redwoods flourish.

Redwood trees are one of the most unique and revered tree species on the planet. They can grow to massive heights, bigger than any other tree, and some have been alive for more than 2,000 years. That’s why environmental groups were flabbergasted when California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire, approved a Spanish-owned winery’s plan to raze nearly 200 acres in order to plant a new vineyard.

The winery claims that because the area was clear-cut more than 50 years ago, and most of the redwoods on the site are less than 100 feet tall, it’s not a forest and shouldn’t have the same protections as old-growth forests.

According to Chris Poehlmann, president of a small organization called Friends of the Gualala River, age is no excuse for decimating thousands of trees on the property. ‘[T]he trees provide wildlife habitat and stabilize the soil against erosion, which has been a major problem for streams in the area that once harbored runs of salmon and steelhead trout,’ Poehlmann told NPR.

CalFire calls that an exaggeration, stating that their own lengthy review process found the development project would not significantly damage the environment. Still, it’s hard to deny that clear-cutting the redwoods would be a profitable move for the winery. They’d make money from selling the lumber, and then make money from the wine in years to come.

A coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter and The Center for Biological Diversity, are suing CalFire for what they say is excessive leniency on proposals by developers to level trees.

If history is any indication of the future, the outcome is bleak at best. From 1979 to 2006, 25 conversions of forest to agriculture occurred in Sonoma County at an average rate of 21 acres per year, according to county officials.

Update: We’ve had many requests from readers who want to know the name of the winery involved. According to NPR and Friends of the Gualala River, the would-be developer is Artesa Vineyards and Winery, which is owned by the Spanish Codorniu Group.

Image via Thinkstock


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

DaZen M.
William D3 years ago

The only thing I want to see in all of California are the redwood trees. That is it. I want to walk in it's forest and put my hands on the tree. I what to feel it's power, its stillness, the forest reaching up.

Howard Crosse
Howard Crosse4 years ago

Any tree has a certain majesty about it, they the oldest living things that most of us will encounter; often they are born before us and live beyond us. Killing something that has contributed to our planet for so long, and will continue to do so, for short term gain is not something that we should do without very careful consideration. Sadly the only thing that is considered is profit.

GGmaSheila D.
Sheila GG D4 years ago

Well, Hell! Going to email both places.

Michael MacPherson

I always thought that the US Forestry Service, US Fish and wildlife Service and California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection were Government agencies set up to protect the Wildlife, Environment, Forests, water and Eco System, but the more I read about how they are taking protections off of endangered animals and allowing logging groups and now the Artesa Vineyards and Winery, which is owned by the Spanish Codorniu Group to clear cut a national treasure such as the Red Wood trees are, it is looking more likely they are a government front group set up to allow those with huge amounts of money to do what ever they want to our environment.

All over the country the US Forestry Service, US Fish and wildlife Service is allowing big money groups to decimate not just the forest but the animals that live there and in too many places Salmon runs and trout streams are being destroyed in the process. the politicians and government employees in charge of the US Department of the Interior are only interested lining their own pockets with as much money as they can.

Having these people in charge of the US Department of the Interior, is like having Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan in charge of our Military. The people is this country are not good stewards of our land, too many are turning their backs and looking the other way to let Wall Street bought and paid for politicians to raid Social Security, the government has already taken more money out of Social Security then we ow

Joy Wong
Joy W4 years ago


Susan B.
Susan B4 years ago

There are signs everywhere not to touch certain redwoods in the redwood area of California, but they want to cut them down?

Mary L.
Mary L4 years ago

Unfortunately the plains aren't good for wine grapes Miss Margaret. Need Mountains and rain and cool foggy times. Not blistering sun, too much rain and then drought then maybe rain. As the Climate Disaster increases who knows? Maybe we'll be growing them in Canada!

Chris Poehlmann
Chris Poehlmann4 years ago

Get in contact with this winery and tell them that if they go ahead and try to make this "Chainsaw Wine" you will not buy. There are a lot of other sustainably grown alternatives out there to chose.

Don Swanz
Don Swanz4 years ago

WOW! You talk about a prompt reply. Here's our answer and definitely go to the web site mentioned. Don and I CAN1 :-))

Hi Don,

I had posted this in the comment thread on the article, but I think it's been pushed too far down now! According to the NPR article cited in the post, the would-be developer is Artesa Vineyards and Winery, which is owned by the Spanish Codorniu Group. For more info, I'd encourage you to contact the group leading the charge in California,

FYI: I'm going to update the post with this info, as I'm sure many people are wondering :)

Thanks for reading,