A California winery has agreed to pay $3.76 million in penalties for numerous violations of state environmental rules during the development of a vineyard in northern Mendocino County. Santa Cruz–based Rhys Vineyards was faulted for filling a stream with dirt, bulldozing a protected wetland and improperly constructing access roads, which caused irreversible damage to the habitat, including the migration and spawning of salmon and trout found in the watershed.
“The illegal and permanent loss of wetlands and streams caused by the vineyard construction was an egregious violation of state and federal law,” said Josh Curtis, assistant executive officer of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (North Coast Water Board), in a statement.
Rhys Vineyards is owned by Kevin Harvey, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founding partner of Benchmark Capital, a venture capital firm that has fostered the funding for several notable companies, including eBay, Twitter, Uber and Yelp. Established in 2004, the winery focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah from cool, rocky and mountainous regions throughout California.
Harvey, reached through his attorney, Tina Wallis, declined to comment. “Rhys Vineyards, LLC deeply regrets the mistakes made. They want to thank the agencies involved for their diligence in working with them to resolve this matter and reaching an agreement," Wallis said, in a statement. "Rhys Vineyards is committed to conserving and protecting the remainder of the ranch and is in discussions with conservation oriented-entities to accomplish this.”
To date, Harvey has developed seven estate vineyards from Santa Cruz to Mendocino. The new vineyard, near the town of Laytonville, halfway between the Pacific Ocean and Highway 101, was planned to be 20 acres, though the entire property spans 4,591 acres around the North Fork Ten Mile River watershed in a remote area of Mendocino County. Much of the region is undeveloped, framed by rugged coastline and redwood trees and home to a large wildlife population.
Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.
According to the settlement, the winery’s actions violated the Clean Water Act, California’s state Water Code, the North Coast Water Quality Control Plan and Fish and Game Code. The settlement will require the company to pay approximately $1.89 million of the $3.76 million to fund two habitat-restoration projects to protect, support and enhance resident fisheries and wildlife. Rhys will also have to clean up and decrease the amount of sediment runoff as a result of road construction on the property.
“This settlement demonstrates our commitment to protecting and restoring our region’s waters and maintaining a level playing field for the vast majority of the region’s vineyard operations who work proactively to meet or exceed environmental regulations,” said Curtis.