Beringer Blass Wine Estates - one of the biggest wine companies in the world - may face legal action over development plans in Napa.

BBWE – a division of Australian brewer Foster’s – plans to build a half-million square metre winery and expand plantings on 46ha in what environmentalists term ’emerging and historic’ wetlands. The land earmarked is zoned for industrial development.

Two weeks ago planning applications were approved by the Napa Valley Board of Supervisors, a five-member panel. Protests filed by the Sierra Club, a nationwide environmental lobbying group of some influence, were rejected. The Sierra Club is now debating whether to sue BBWE, which it must do within the next 20 days.

‘The Sierra Club will possibly file a lawsuit,’ campaigner Chris Malan told decanter.com.

The wetlands, and vernal pools – large bodies of water which only occur after winter rains and a matter of weeks or months – are home to an endangered species called the fairy shrimp. The Sierra Club claims the development will further endanger the shrimp.

Beringer plans to set aside a 12ha wilderness area in the south-west corner of the development. The company says it has taken every care to protect the environment, and that the facility, which is south of Napa airport, will mean a huge reduction in lorry traffic.

Beringer spokeswoman Mora Cronin said, ‘We meet with representatives of the Sierra Club on a regular basis. We have taken the environment into consideration. We are restoring a creek that would never have been restored, and we will be cutting thousands of truck trips between the winery at St Helena and the Napa warehouse.’

Cronin added that biologists had visited from the US Department of Fish and Wildlife, and they had ‘been unable to find any fairy shrimp.’

Asked whether she thought it likely the company would face a lawsuit, she said, ‘We hope not. We take the objections seriously but we do feel the proposal has merit.’

Chris Malan said that rare plants would also be endangered, and that the ‘tiny area’ set aside was not sufficient. But she conceded they were fighting a hard battle.

‘I don’t know if a lawsuit will succeed. It is a lot of work to stop something like that going ahead.’

Written by Adam Lechmere26 April 2002