Wilson Winery events under scrutiny

Guy Kovner & Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County planning officials are cracking down on Ken and Diane Wilson for what they say are a series of permit violations at the couple’s flagship Wilson Winery in the heart of Dry Creek Valley. The couple has been accused of hosting wine-related parties and events that overflow the region with traffic and noise.
The Wilsons, who own eight wineries in world-class wine grape growing regions in northern Sonoma County, argue they are being unfairly targeted, but county officials contend that the well-known winemaking duo are breaking the county’s rules, and flagrantly advertising and holding a slate of unauthorized events.

“I take the integrity of our county code seriously, and if people are going to violate it, they’re going to hear from me,” said Tennis Wick, director of the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department, who initiated strict action last year against another winery accused of breaking the rules for years. “We had similar concerns about violations with Bella.”

Sonoma County code enforcement officials served the Wilsons with a notice of violation May 6. The notice, essentially an order to stop holding events, was not made public until late last week. Driven by a wave of complaints from nearby residents citing concerns with vehicles and noise in their neighborhood, the action concludes a three-week investigation into Wilson by county code enforcement officials, who said they verified numerous complaints. Ken Wilson is appealing the notice and is set to appear in front of an administrative hearing officer later this month to argue his case.

“We didn’t know (we had) to ask for them,” said Wilson, reached at his vacation home near Toronto. He pointed out that the use permit for Wilson Winery — like hundreds of permits issued years ago for many other Sonoma County wineries — does not mention events.

“It was just assumed you could do them,” he said.

The county’s action against Wilson is the latest in a series of high-profile disputes involving winery development in Sonoma County. A trio of winery appeals — one involving the Wilsons’ new Hale Winery — are headed to the Board of Supervisors this year, and supervisors are expected to formally weigh in for the first time on widespread concerns over water, traffic and noise associated with wineries that double as event centers. Criticism, prompted by the significant increase in winery applications flowing into the Board of Zoning Adjustments over the past year, has grown more vocal as tourism in Wine Country skyrockets with the rebounding economy.

Read more at: Wilson Winery events under scrutiny | The Press Democrat

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