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Sonoma County Sues Winemaker Paul Hobbs

Officials contend three vineyard developments violated environmental laws; winemaker says allegations are misleading

Tim Fish
Posted: August 15, 2014

Winemaker Paul Hobbs is facing a lawsuit by Sonoma County officials that could potentially cost him millions of dollars.

The Sonoma County District Attorney filed a civil suit against Hobbs over what the DA's office says are environmental violations over his development of three vineyard sites dating back to 2011. The suit, filed in late May, contends that Hobbs and his company “recklessly and carelessly” violated local and state environmental regulations by removing trees and waterway vegetation without proper permits or authorization. All three sites are located in West Sonoma County, not far from the globetrotting winemaker's Sebastopol winery.

Hobbs was out of the country and unavailable for comment, but spokesman Christopher O’Gorman said in a statement, “We believe the district attorney’s charges and wildly inflated civil penalties reported in the press are misleading the public, as we have an excellent record of preserving and protecting the environment.”

Various vineyard developments by Hobbs have created controversy in recent years. The county issued several stop-work orders between 2011 and 2013, but officials waited nearly a year after the last violation to file the lawsuit.

Hobbs has acknowledged that mistakes were made on those projects. He addressed all of his contentious land projects in a Dec. 15, 2013, profile in Wine Spectator. “I’m the bad guy if anything happens,” Hobbs said at the time. “It's a big political issue. I can develop vineyards in Napa with no problem, but I can't seem to get it done in Sonoma.” He has also complained that land development rules are unclear in Sonoma.

Hobbs’ lawyers have filed a motion to strike the suit. A hearing is set for Oct. 22.

John H Herman
Dallas, TX —  August 16, 2014 2:00pm ET
My friends in the Russian River Valley have been complaining about Hobbs' tricks to cut down trees to plant new vineyards for years.

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