Posted on October 5, 2013 By Mina

Where Environmental Regulations and the Wine Business Intersect

The Wine Bar Blog

A blog about wine business, wine law, and wine!


In June, Paul Hobbs was issued a stop-work order by the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner.  This came after Hobbs began a project clearing a 48-acre former orchard to be used as a vineyard for grape growing.

The news hit at a time when Hobbs had previously and recently been in the news for other violations of local regulations relating to environmental protection, such as failing to obtain permits and violating regulations about preserving certain types of foliage.

This particular occurrence piqued my interest because the project was halted in its tracks due to the Agricultural Commissioner’s response to a public complaint relating to Hobbs’ activities and the Commissioner’s noticing of the violation as it was happening.  In this instance, the violation involved removing fruit bushes along a waterway, where county regulations prohibit removing plants within a certain distance from riparian waterways as such.

The coverage that I found on Hobbs’ former violations concerned instances that were slightly different in that the violations had occurred and were complete by the time authorities learned about them.  Hobbs was then presumably issued citations that resulted in monetary fines.

Here, instead, the project was halted due to a stop-work order.  Possibly monetary penalties were also assessed.  However, the takeaway here is the important difference between those two penalties, as it relates to environmental protection.

In the case of fines, one could easily imagine a situation where a business would do a cost-benefit analysis and maybe knowingly violate a rule, deciding ahead of time that the fine might just be part of the cost of doing business.  On the other hand, if local authorities have the power to actually stop projects in their tracks, then maybe a much stronger deterrent exists relating to rules violations.

Of course, I’m not asserting or even implying that Hobbs was doing any of these violations knowingly.  In fact, most of the online reports – even his own comments on the record – indicate that it was more of an honest case of negligence and haphazard planning and organization.  In any case, if the project is halted, and money is lost, it is almost certain that Hobbs, and others in similar positions in the future, will make sure to be more careful in complying with environmental regulations.

(This posting is not to be construed as legal advice.  If any of the information in this posting relates to legal issues that you are facing, you should contact an attorney.)