Grape growers support tax |

Grape growers support tax

El Dorado County grape growers are applauding a tax Gov. Gray Davis placed upon the state’s $33 billion wine industry last week.

California will assess $3 on every $1,000 of grapes sold for wine or juice in an effort to stop an insect that has spread disease through vineyards in 15 California counties since 1999.

Lawmakers estimate the tax will raise $5 million annually until 2006 to fund research of the glassy-winged sharpshooter, a one-half-inch long, bacteria-spreading insect that can quickly fly vast distances.

The sharpshooter has spread the vine-killing Pierce’s disease primarily in Southern California, causing losses in the millions of dollars to Temecula Valley growers alone.

Although El Dorado County vineyards haven’t experienced damage, area winery association members are anxious to stop sharpshooter infestations short of the county line.

“It would be really ignorant for us not to support this assessment,” said Barbara MacCready, co-owner of Sierra Vista Winery in Placerville. “We certainly want to find a cure before it reaches here. It’s just a matter of time.”

Bill Snodgrass, El Dorado County secretary of agriculture, said a nursery shipment from Southern California transported sharpshooters into Cameron Park a few months ago, although the insects weren’t carrying Pierce’s disease.

In response, El Dorado County placed 500 traps throughout the West Slope to catch the insects. Each nursery shipment is also inspected when it comes into the county.

“If we just had one or the other we’d be OK,” Snodgrass said. “But if you get the combination of the two it has the potential to wipe out your crop.”

The California Department of Food and Agriculture inspected more than 50,000 shipments of nursery plants and more than 100,000 shipments of grapes in the past year.

Snodgrass said Pierce’s disease has been around for almost a century.

About 25 years ago, the disease wiped out most of Napa Valley’s grape crop, forcing the lucrative wine country to replant.

Snodgrass said the sharpshooter has the potential to wreak more havoc than the insect that spread Pierce’s in Napa more than two decades ago.

The sharpshooter is a much more indiscriminate carrier and has been able to spread the disease rapidly. It can find hosts in more than 200 plant species, including oleander, apricot and alfalfa.

With the annual tax, Snodgrass said researchers hope to develop a resistant root to predators like the sharpshooter in order to protect the county’s $80 million cash crop.

The tax, which grape growers and wine producers will begin paying this year, was part of a bill authored by Assemblywoman Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa.

To date, more than $39 million in state and federal funds has been allocated to fight Pierce’s disease and the sharpshooter that spreads it.

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