Apples for Grapes

Over 400 people signed a petition last week against Paul Hobbs Winery and its plans to convert an apple orchard into a vineyard surrounding five schools in rural Sebastopol.

Hobbs is an international wine baron who owns vineyards in at least half a dozen countries, and who has a history of clearcutting without permits and then paying fines afterward. He is among those responsible for changing the Redwood Empire into “wine country.”

Though the orchard-to-vineyard conversion in Sebastopol has been in process for around a year—as some school officials have apparently known—parents didn’t find about it until last week, when workers in hazmat suits showed up.

“Nobody wants their child exposed to something that could hurt them,” said mother Christine Dzilvelis who, along with others in the new Watertrough Children’s Alliance, is concerned with pesticide drift, asbestos, lead and arsenic poisoning in the soil and water contamination.

“As the director of a preschool on the Apple Blossom campus,” writes Barbara Stockton, “I am utterly appalled that his development might occur.”

“We have children at Apple Blossom and Orchard View schools,” wrote Michelle Muse upon signing the petition. “Our children will be within feet of herbicide and pesticide applications. This is not acceptable.”

Mothers and allies met last week with various officials, including agriculture commissioner Tony Linegar, who has the power to deny a permit for the vineyard conversion, which is still being reviewed.

Hobbs—who took over a portion of neighbor John Jenkel’s land in a contentious and highly criticized maneuver in 2011, and then cut down even more trees along a designated scenic corridor—is often called a “bad apple” of Sonoma County’s wine industry. But the obvious issue rose from Amy Taganaski, who has two children at Apple Blossom School: “How can the school continue to be called Apple Blossom if there are not apples to be found nearby?”

Shepherd Bliss operates a farm near the proposed vineyard, teaches college, and can be reached at

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