Tag Archives: wineries

A growing Sonoma bursts at its seams

Patrick Hoge, SAN FRANCISCO MAGAZINE

Wine tourism: booming. Mass transit: zooming. Big cannabis: looming. For a once-quiet agricultural region, Sonoma is suddenly an economic engine. And not everybody’s loving the noise.

Liza Hinman lives in two Sonoma County worlds on the same continuum. In one, she is cofounder and chef of the Spinster Sisters, a hip, fun, homey restaurant bringing life and house-made granola parfaits to a formerly run-down part of Santa Rosa. She’s part of a vanguard of entrepreneurial Sonomans who are catering to both locals and tourists through the unifying power of good eating, good drinking, and smartly designed community spaces. In the other world, Hinman, as a mother of three and the wife of a Sonoma native, is unsettled by the changes that have overtaken her hometown of Healdsburg, a once-dilapidated agricultural town of almost 12,000 with a quaint central plaza that has utterly transformed in the last 15 years into a crowded, swanky destination for affluent out-of-towners and second-home owners.

In one world, increased tourism and a well-earned Michelin recommendation are boons for Hinman, a rosy-cheeked, smock-wearing 40-year-old with a broad smile and a gifted touch with locally grown foods. In the other, she finds herself conflicted, avoiding Healdsburg’s downtown of pricey restaurants, clothing stores, and art galleries because of traffic and lack of parking, and shaking her head at the area’s 30—30!—wine tasting rooms. “It’s the ad nauseam conversation that we all have as more and more tourists and Bay Area people discover us,” Hinman says, proffering some of her signature deviled eggs. An East Coast transplant who got her professional start studying and cooking in San Francisco, Hinman knows that it wasn’t long ago that numerous businesses in downtown Healdsburg were shuttered. And she appreciates the tax revenue that supports city services. “It’s our lifeblood here,” she says. “But there has to be a way to find balance, to have a vibrant community for locals and services for tourists.”

Hinman’s contrasting sentiments are echoed across Sonoma County these days, as moneyed visitors from around the world and urban refugees flood into the North Bay in search of the good life. Tourism spending is soaring; hotel and winery development is widespread; and housing prices are climbing fast and approaching an all-time high—all factors that have led to a growing disquiet among longtime valley dwellers. Still a vast Eden of vineyards, restaurants, and resorts, Sonoma maintains a natural beauty and a relatively affordable cost of living that have made it a release valve for the over-pressurized Bay Area. But this restfulness has been disturbed by new strains of anxiety that Sonoma’s laid-back feel, small-town charms, and country roads are being trammeled by too many outsiders with too much cash.

Read more at: San Francisco Magazine | Modern Luxury | A Growing Sonoma Bursts at its Seams

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Knights Valley winery approved by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A new winery proposed for Knights Valley was approved Tuesday by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, which denied an appeal from two local groups concerned about the long-planned facility’s impacts on the remote area.

With little fanfare, supervisors unanimously followed through on the intent they relayed last month during a lengthy public hearing about the Knights Bridge Winery.

Under a condition placed by county officials, the project cannot draw more groundwater than currently used at the site, which already includes about 43 acres of vineyards. The winery, which can produce up to 10,400 cases, is slated for a roughly 86-acre property off Spencer Lane.

A potential squeeze on the area’s already-scarce groundwater supplies was a primary concern among project opponents, including the Maacama Watershed Alliance and the Friends of Spencer Lane, who appealed the Board of Zoning Adjustments’ 2015 approval of the project to supervisors.

To meet the condition, the county is requiring the winery to reduce the property’s existing usage of groundwater by at least 0.5 acre feet annually, or nearly 163,000 gallons per year. Project applicant Jim Bailey initially plans to meet the requirement by dry farming three acres of vines, according to county staff.

Read more at: Knights Valley winery approved by Sonoma County Board of Supervisors | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Land Use

David Ramey’s Westside Road winery approved by Sonoma County zoning board

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

One of Sonoma County’s most esteemed vintners has cleared a key hurdle on his way toward building a long-sought winery on Westside Road, but he’s bracing for continued opposition from residents who say his plans would place too great a strain on the rural corridor outside Healdsburg, already one of the most popular grape-growing and wine-tasting regions in the county.

David Ramey, winemaker and co-owner of Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg, received the blessing this week from a majority of planning officials who considered his proposal for a 60,000-case winery and tasting room operation that has been in the works since he and his wife, Carla, bought the 75-acre site of the former Westside Farms nearly five years ago.

While Ramey’s project passed the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments on a 3-to-1 vote Thursday, it could be appealed to the Board of Supervisors by any one of the residents who oppose the project, citing concerns about its scale and impact, including traffic from events and visitors to the public tasting room. Ramey is expecting an appeal, meaning supervisors could have the final say on the matter, barring a court battle.

Read more at: David Ramey’s Westside Road winery approved by Sonoma County zoning board | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

Westside Road winery seeking expansion

Frank Robertson, HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE

Whether the rural splendor of Westside Road can withstand its evolution into a high-end wine tasting mecca will be one question in the air at a public hearing coming up in two weeks.

The Sept. 21 county Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) hearing will address renowned winemaker David Ramey’s ambitious plans for a winery with multiple tasting rooms, guest housing, commercial office space and picnic grounds to accommodate more than two dozen annual promotional parties, some with up to 300 guests.

Ramey’s project has drawn outcry from opponents who say it’s simply too much even for Westside Road, one of the most visitor-centric destinations in wine country.

“This is the most intense project ever proposed for Westside Road,” read a letter from the Westside Community Association regarding the Ramey project on 75 acres known as Westside Farms, where a weathered hop kiln building is a designated county historic site.

Besides a new winery and wine cave, The Ramey project includes a tasting room in the old hop kiln building and another private tasting room in the adjacent barn, along with overnight marketing accommodations and parking for approximately 80 cars.

Read more at: Westside Road winery seeking expansion | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections

J.D. MORRIS, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors signaled Tuesday that it would approve a new winery in Knights Valley, advancing a long-planned 10,000-case facility despite concerns from residents worried about how the project would impact the rural area, particularly its limited groundwater supplies.

After a nearly three-hour hearing, supervisors unanimously agreed to move the Knights Bridge Winery proposal forward, indicating the board intends to deny a request from residents who wanted the county to require another layer of environmental review.

The board directed county staff to bring the winery’s use permit back for a formal vote Sept. 19, incorporating several conditions proposed by Supervisor James Gore, who represents Knights Valley.

“There’s one thing everybody has in common, which is this beautiful place,” Gore said at the hearing’s outset. “It’s absolutely gorgeous and pristine, and it’s a place that deserves protection and deserves the highest level of review for projects, too.”

The most significant of Gore’s conditions would solidify a pledge made by the winery’s proponents that the project would offset any additional groundwater use, a key concern of residents opposed to the winery, slated for a roughly 86-acre site on Spencer Lane about a mile west of Highway 128. The property’s net demand on its well — half the acreage is planted in vineyards — was previously estimated at about 162,900 gallons per year.

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors endorse Knights Valley winery over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Water

Luxury resort, winery approved in Sonoma Valley

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A proposed luxury hotel resort and winery in Kenwood that withstood court challenges before languishing for more than a decade is again moving ahead following a favorable decision from the Sonoma County Planning Commission.

Despite a vigorous campaign by opponents, the commission on Thursday unanimously upheld design changes to the future inn, spa and restaurant and affirmed that the project has a vested right to go forward.

“Legally we really don’t have a big leg to stand on if we decide this project isn’t going to go through,” said Commissioner Dick Fogg, adding that the design changes were not sufficient to require further review, or delay.

“I think it’s a better design. I like it,” said Commissioner John Lowry, echoing the comments of his colleagues on the 50-room hotel, luxury spa and 125-seat restaurant and bar. A relatively small 10,000-case winery and 11 homes that were previously approved have yet to undergo design review.

Opponents led by the Valley of the Moon Alliance have been fighting the hotel and resort since its inception about 15 years ago, viewing it as part of the steady onslaught of wineries, tasting rooms and events that have altered the face of the picturesque valley and piled more cars onto busy Highway 12.

Read more at: Luxury resort, winery approved in Sonoma Valley | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Transportation

Sonoma County zoning board rejects new Healdsburg winery sought by Oakville Grocery owner

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Westside Road has 29 approved wineries, making it one of the most concentrated winemaking zones in Sonoma County, alongside Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Valley. Some neighbors have grown increasingly frustrated with the spread of wineries and events in those areas, and county supervisors are expected to return to that discussion sometime this fall.

A proposed new winery in one of Sonoma County’s most popular grape-growing and wine-tasting regions was rejected Thursday by county planning officials over concerns about traffic safety and the high concentration of existing wineries.

The Board of Zoning Adjustments voted unanimously to deny a permit for a Westside Road winery southwest of Healdsburg envisioned by Leslie Rudd, the owner of the Oakville Grocery stores. Rudd’s team plans to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors, making for another high-profile case in the countywide debate about the spread of wineries and the special events they often host.

Read more at: Sonoma County zoning board rejects new Healdsburg winery sought by Oakville Grocery owner | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Westside Road residents want to stop proposed winery near Healdsburg, citing safety concerns

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of concerned Westside Road residents want Sonoma County planners to halt a new winery proposed for the premier grape-growing corridor southwest of Healdsburg.

Their concerns center largely around traffic safety issues, but they illustrate yet another episode of neighborhood conflict over the spread of the region’s signature industry as county officials prepare to consider policy changes later this year.

The county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments will hold a public hearing Thursday to consider issuing a use permit for a new winery on an approximately 26-acre site at 4603 Westside Road, an area that already contains one of the county’s highest concentration of wineries. As envisioned by its proponents, the new winery would produce 10,000 cases annually and would host 37 special gatherings, including a dozen promotional event days with as many as 150 people. Its events would include no weddings.

County staff members are recommending the zoning board approve the use permit, but the project has received strong resistance from neighbors who primarily cite two sharp turns in the road near the driveway that would lead into the winery. Residents say the turns are too tight and that the project’s proximity to them means it can’t provide sufficiently safe sight lines for motorists. They want the zoning board to reject the project.

Resident Judith Olney, who lives about one and a half miles up Westside Road from the winery site, said the project’s approval would be akin to “playing Russian roulette with public safety.”

Read more at: Westside Road residents want to stop proposed winery near Healdsburg, citing safety concerns | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Op-Ed: The time has come to create ‘sustainable tourism’ standards

Janis Watkins, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s stunning rural beauty, pristine coast, charming small towns and scenic wine valleys are unique characteristics that draw visitors by the thousands. The boom in tourism has many benefits, including more jobs, increased tax revenues for the county and cities and a lively social vibrancy. But that success has also brought impacts.

Affordable housing in Wine Country has been hit hard by the tourism boom. Although tourists didn’t cause the housing crisis, tourism has exacerbated it. Residents are seeing the loss of housing stock to owners of second homes, Airbnb rentals and outside investors drawn by our local charm, who gentrify or “scrape and replace” neighborhood homes.In Healdsburg, an affluent visitor destination, 21 mostly Hispanic families suffered mass eviction by an outside investor. Some neighborhoods are hollowed out, degenerating into a set of part-time strangers. Low-paying tourism jobs are increasing, worsening the affordable housing deficit.

The increased number of tasting rooms, with evermore intense events, raises the specter of “Napafication.” Rural residents experience traffic congestion, loss of rural character, noise and out-of-scale alcohol tourism-related development. Two-lane Highway 12 is already over capacity with traffic, especially in the northern Sonoma Valley where special events attract more than 170,000 people annually. Approved and modified permits for five facilities alone will add another 25,000 vehicle trips. Similar over-concentration occurs on Westside Road and in the Dry Creek Valley.

In Healdsburg, 37 tasting rooms are concentrated downtown, and they will pay top dollar, driving up rents to where other types of businesses have a hard time competing. For about half the year, tourism swells the population, which puts stress on public services at local taxpayer expense. Sonoma, the other plaza town, has a similar pattern. These tourist-focused towns have fewer services and less space for locals, less diverse economies and are vulnerable to boom-and-bust economic cycles. As once thriving communities become more commercialized, and their assets degrade, they lose their unique qualities, and tourists move on to more charming locations.

Solutions are at hand. Increasingly, Sonoma County is looking for ways to preserve the robust benefits of agricultural tourism, while balancing tourism with local residents’ needs and promoting a diverse economy.

The Board of Supervisors directed development of zoning code amendments, siting criteria and standards for winery events to address the impacts of wine-related tourism. Supervisors have signaled that new development in areas of concentration will face greater scrutiny and guidelines to limit detrimental concentrations and impacts to rural character from business activity in the Sonoma Valley, on Westside Road and in the Dry Creek Valley. Developers have their sights on coastal areas. Luckily, county planners recently put a hold on a wine-tasting, brew pub and art venue proposal in the historic village of Freestone.

“Sustainable tourism” is also being discussed in Healdsburg and Sonoma. City and local leaders are considering how to create sustainable tourism, and the mayor of Sonoma is seeking coordination with Healdsburg on this effort. Sonoma County Conservation Action, a leader in grass-roots environmental issues, supports this collaborative approach. The process should involve broad outreach to residents, environmentalists and the lodging, wine and business sectors, and it should create specific enforceable measures that protect the carrying capacity of communities and balance the needs of tourism and residents.

Janis Watkins, a resident of Healdsburg, is a member of the board of directors of Conservation Action. 

Source: Close to Home: The time has come to create ‘sustainable tourism’ standards | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Scenic Route” sign on Highway 12 announces the obvious to motorists heading into the Valley of the Moon. It’s cradled by mountains, dotted with giant oaks, horse ranches, vineyards, remnants of old orchards and the odd water tower.

The road delivers inspiring views of imposing Hood Mountain, its craggy face standing sentinel over a historic route from Santa Rosa to Sonoma that carried stagecoaches and trains before the automobile took over.But today, the two-lane highway is crowded with traffic generated by commuters, residential and commercial development, sightseers and visitors headed to wineries and tasting rooms.

winery map, Sonoma Valley

Winery Expansion on Sonoma Highway 12 (Press Democrat, from Sonoma County PRMD, October 2016.)

The northern arm of Sonoma Valley, between Madrone and Melita roads, is home to more than 40 tasting rooms and event centers that each year attract more than 140,000 people to special events. They could be joined by another half-dozen or more tasting rooms and more than 110 annual special events with 20,000 more people if permits in the pipeline previously approved, but not yet built, are exercised.

The burgeoning wine industry and plans for a high-end luxury hotel, spa and winery off La Campagna Lane in Kenwood have especially drawn attention and opposition while highlighting the impact of development along the county’s busiest wine road.

The growth has set off alarms among rural residents concerned about the loss of agricultural land and the vehicles and noise generated by winery events, especially on weekends. They raise the specter of “Napafication,” the fear that roads will become as clogged as in Napa Valley, where traffic on Highway 29 slows to a long crawl on Saturdays and Sundays when visitors stream to the abundant large corporate-owned wineries.

Read more at: Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation