Sour Grapes

The takeover of John Jenkel's land


John Jenkel is opinionated, overbearing, delusional and stubborn. His conspiratorial rants and paid screed-readers have delayed countless public meetings for years. But while Jenkel has been raving about ominous machinations that only he can see, a very real enemy, literally right next door, has disdainfully taken the crazed old farmer’s measure, and is coldly executing a methodical fleecing.

Regardless of the origins of the dispute between Jenkel and winemaker Paul Hobbs, there’s no doubt who’s held the whip since it’s moved into the courts. Armed with a $350,000 judgment, Hobbs has three times forced court-sanctioned auctions of parts of Jenkel’s land near Graton to satisfy that debt, then exploited those predatory sales to acquire the prime properties for a sliver of their true worth. He’s reportedly snared some eight acres for a mere $61,000.

Because of those fire-sale prices, only a small part of the judgment has been retired, and Hobbs shows no signs of relenting. Just last month, he was the lone bidder for a two-plus acre piece of Jenkel’s farm, snapping it up for a mere $1,000.

This may be legal, but it is no fair fight. Jenkel has demonstrated repeatedly that he has a poor grasp of reality, and even less command of public process. Yet there is something pathetic, distasteful and wrong about seeing him and his stead slowly dismantled by a well-heeled bully in a three-piece suit.

Within days of the latest forced sale, heavy equipment began busily rendering the former Jenkel land anonymous—preparatory, it appears, to the installation of more vineyards. The thick row of evergreens screening the property along Highway 116, a state-defined scenic corridor, were slashed and dismembered. Redwood stumps sit near victorious tractors. Yet the $350,000 judgment setting all this in motion was Hobbs’ claim that Jenkel had deliberately damaged a stand of trees on Hobbs’ land. Retribution prevails and everyone loses, save one smooth operator armed with money, lawyers and an ugly sense of entitlement.

Just how high is the price of irascibility? Supplanting a confused curmudgeon with still more grapevines is no bargain, and it proves that, clearly, there’s more than one kind of monoculture in Sonoma County.

This opinion piece also appears on KRCB-FM’s new community media site, Bruce Robinson is the news director at KRCB radio and has been a contributor to this paper for over 20 years.

Sonoma County Library