Liza B. Zimmerman, WINE SEARCHER
While many wine country regions have welcomed revenue from new businesses, the somewhat-still-rural hamlet of Sonoma County clearly has conflicted sentiments.
Compared to the top-dollar region of Napa Valley, which was smart enough to self-regulate itself a half century ago, and less affluent areas such as the New York Finger Lakes that tend to support new development for economic reasons, wine industry regulation and growth in Sonoma has not been an easy process.
The county includes some of the most bucolic land – complete with ocean views – in California wine country. Its major towns of Sonoma, Healdsburg and, more recently, Sebastopol have been attracting low-key, yet quite profitable tourism for some decades. Most of the area’s tasting rooms also don’t charge a $50-plus per-person reserve tasting fee and traffic has primarily been manageable on Sonoma’s small roads for a number of decades.
However, local residents have come to a boiling point about vehicles, noise and general exuberant indulgence within their county’s limits. Roads in the region are rustic and new wineries have been sprouting up like poppies for decades.
According to Tennis Wick, the Santa Rosa-based director of Permit Sonoma, the county currently has 467 wineries approved in unincorporated areas. The “general plan for Sonoma County projected 239 wineries by the year 2020 because that number was environmentally prudent. From 2000 to 2015 there was a 300-percent increase in new winery facilities. Sonoma County was home to 127 wineries in 2000 and has nearly 500 now,” shares Padi Selwyn, the co-chair of Preserve Rural Sonoma County (PRSC), a group that has spearheaded local residents’ desires to moderate new winery and event space openings.
Read more at https://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2018/08/locals-continue-to-clash-with-sonoma-wineries
Janet Perry, THE WINDSOR TIMES
One of Sonoma County’s most highly acclaimed vintners has found his vision for the future at odds with citizens concerns over the impacts of commercial vineyards and their events.
David Ramey said that he “purchased the old pumpkin farm, which attracted substantial visitors and traffic, with the vision of building our family winery for coming generations. We’ve been leasing our two wineries in Healdsburg but do not own them, which involves a measure of uncertainty.”
Ramey was granted a conditional use permit by the County Board of Zoning Adjustments for development on his Westside Farms’ property on Westside Road.
The permit, issued Sept. 21, was appealed by environmental groups and citizens on Oct. 2. Appellants are calling upon the board of supervisors to “address the cumulative impacts from the commercialization of agriculture land, and define protective standards that preserve what brings tourists to Sonoma County in the first place, our rural character and small town charm.”
Craig Enyart, of Maacama Watershed Alliance, challenged the county supervisors in the appellants’ Oct. 5 press release announcing the appeal. “Enough is enough — it’s past time for the supervisors to provide staff, planning commissioners, applicants and taxpayers the guidance they’ve repeatedly requested, addressing general plan requirements and the cumulative impact issues raised during the 2015 Winery Working Group process.”
(In 2015, Sonoma County appointed 21 locals from among the wine industry, environmental groups and rural residents to a working group tasked with identifying the growing pains of the wine industry in Sonoma County and how best to mitigate those problems.)
Read more at: Westside Farms caught up in local fight for more restrictions of vineyards | News | sonomawest.com
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
Liza B. Zimmerman, WINE SEARCHER
“Right now, there are some areas of severe over-concentration, i.e. Valley of the Moon, West Side Road and Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg,” notes Padi Selwyn, one of the co-founders of Preserve Rural Sonoma County, an organization advocating to protect the area’s rural character. The County of Sonoma’s general plan had projected 239 wineries in place by the year 2020, yet has approved nearly 500 wineries to date, with more in the pipeline, she adds.
While many wine regions in California have been growing by leaps and bounds, few have developed at the recent pace of Sonoma County.
According to the Santa Rosa, California-based Permit and Resource Development Management Department of Sonoma County, from 2000 to 2015 there was a 300 percent increase in new winery facilities. Sonoma County was home to 127 wineries in 2000 and has nearly 450 now.
More wineries offer a wider spectrum of wine-tasting experiences – food-pairing options and party venues have been attracting more locals, and visitors, along with more traffic and with it sometimes drunk drivers. While winery owners may be thrilled about some of the results, many local residents clearly are not.
The Napa Valley long ago emerged as California’s leading wine region. Careful planning in the region set aside much of the area’s land for agriculture by creating the US’s first Agricultural Preserve in 1968, according to Patsy McGaughy, the St Helena, California-based communications director for the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV).
This pioneering legislation was followed two decades later by the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO), which was enacted in 1990. It has since dictated how many wineries can be open to the public, serve food and number of visitors and events each can host per year.
“The reason Napa became a brand and can command premium value both for wine and for land, pay its workers well and support public services as a result, is because of the genius of the Wine Definition Ordinance, defining wineries as an agricultural use [of the land],” according to Barbara Insel, president and CEO of the Stonebridge Research Group, a wine industry analyst.
While other wine regions have yet to see nearly the same level of consumer interest and have allowed their regions to grow naturally, Santa Barbara hit a snag after the 2004 release of Sideways. The film sent reams of tourists rushing to the area’s wineries and restaurants, and clogged the 5000-resident Danish-themed town of Solvang located in the center of its wine country.
“The tension started after Sideways,” agreed Morgen McLauglin, the executive director or the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association. Locals saw wineries as bringing visitors that clogged roads, caused traffic jams and encouraged drunk drivers. One of the results of that uptick in visitors led to a winery ordinance that the region has been working on for four years. One that McLauglin says is among the most restrictive in terms of the number of tasting rooms permitted.
Read more at: Tension Flares Between Wineries and Residents | Wine News & Features
Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After languishing for more than a decade, a luxury hotel resort and winery in Kenwood is again moving forward, bolstered by new owners and prior approval from the county that appears to pave the way for construction.
The 50-room hotel on a plateau overlooking the Valley of the Moon — along with a luxury spa, 125-seat restaurant and small winery — was the subject of a bruising land-use fight a dozen years ago before being stalled further by the recession.
To opponents, the Resort at Sonoma Country Inn, as it’s now dubbed, epitomizes the steady onslaught of new wineries, tasting rooms and events that are changing the face of the picturesque valley, piling more cars on to busy Highway 12, which averages more than 18,000 vehicles per day in Kenwood, according to state traffic counts.
“It is something that is going to have an impact for sure,” said Kathy Pons, president of Valley of the Moon Alliance, a community group. She worries not only about traffic, but the hillside resort’s visibility and light emanating from it at night.
Read more: Sonoma Valley luxury resort and winery moves forward despite opposition | The Press Democrat
Padi Selwyn and Judith Olney, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
With 447 wineries and tasting rooms outside city limits with 60 more in the pipeline, we have reached a tipping point. Since 2000, there has been a 300% increase in the number of wineries built, exceeding the General Plan assumption of 239 wineries by 2020.
More info at preserveruralsonomacounty.org
Last month’s winery events study session by the Board of Supervisors was a step in the right direction, as local officials try to balance wine industry interests with a growing backlash by concerned citizens. Property owners expressed concerns that environmental degradation, unruly crowds, loud noise, traffic safety issues and congestion on narrow roads are destroying tranquil rural character and contributing to the Napafication of Sonoma County.
But it’s clear that this is going to be a long process, with new ordinances projected for by Spring 2017. There are many more meetings to be held, and input by the Planning Commission needed. Meanwhile, the wine industry continues lobbying for fewer restrictions, while the overflow crowd of concerned citizens in attendance sent a clear message to county officials that it’s time to rein in winery development and limit the number of promotional events.
As an example, the wine industry continues to advocate that the county categorize events by attendees or by sponsor. Unfortunately, merely labeling a dinner-dance as a “distributor meeting” does not reduce the noise, long duration drinking, or the potential of impaired drivers on rural one-lane roads. This re-naming of high impact promotional and hospitality uses – such as winemaker lunches or dinners – as “tasting room or business activities”, is a thinly veiled attempt to exempt these events, food service and accommodations from environmental review and use permit conditions required to reduce the impacts to less than significant.
Read more at: Sonoma County Limits on Wine Industry in the Works
Stett Holbrook, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
In the winter of 2015, a Hong Kong real estate conglomerate purchased the Calistoga Hills Resort, at the northern end of the Napa Valley, for nearly $80 million. Today, mature oaks and conifers cover the 88-acre property, which flanks the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Mountains.
But soon, 8,000 trees will be cut, making way for 110 hotel rooms, 20 luxury homes, 13 estate lots, and a restaurant. Room rates will reportedly start at about $1,000 a night, and the grounds will include amenities like a pool, spas, outdoor showers and individual plunge pools outside select guest rooms.
Following the sale, one of the most expensive in the nation based on the number of rooms planned, commercial broker James Escarzega told a Bay Area real estate journal that the project “will be a game changer for the luxury hotel market in Napa Valley.” That may well be true, but it’s likely not the kind of game changer that many locals want to see.
While the Napa Valley conjures images of idyllic winery estates and luxurious lifestyles, all is not well in wine country. A growing number of residents decry the region’s proliferation of upscale hotels, the wineries that double as event centers and the strain on Napa Valley’s water resources. In the wake of California’s unprecedented drought, the city of Calistoga—like others—has been under mandatory water rationing. “We’re told not to flush our toilets,” says Christina Aranguren, a vocal critic of the proposed resort, whose guests will be under no such restrictions. “I want to know where the water will come from.”
Other new developments will further strain local infrastructure. The 22-acre Silver Rose Resort, across town from the Calistoga Hills Resort, will feature an 84-room hotel and spa, 21 homes, a restaurant, a winery and a six-acre vineyard. Last year, Calistoga’s Indian Springs Resort underwent a $23 million expansion and added 75 new guest rooms to bring its total to 115.
Read more at: Of Water and Wine | Features | North Bay Bohemian
Staff, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
Napa and Sonoma counties are in the midst of reviewing how they handle rural winery projects amid increasingly vigorous opposition.
Both counties are part of a public-policy discussion happening in a number of popular West Coast wine tourism regions, such as Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
Wine business advocates contend that marketing of the high-end beverage has changed dramatically in the past decade, with tighter bottlenecks in traditional distribution channels and thus more need for direct-to-consumer sales efforts. Project opponents contend that wine tourism and greater production are choking rural roads with traffic and transforming the quiet rural environment, and a number of wine business operators aren’t following existing limits on production and visitation.
Opposition has brought winery project processing to a near halt in Napa County in the past few years and led to high-profile fights against projects in Sonoma County, such as celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s unsuccessful plan. Wine business groups have been proactive in providing ideas for reforming the project-review process to protect right-to-farm provisions as well as land-use protections, particularly the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve.
Read more at: 2015 review: Napa, Sonoma struggle with winery events | North Bay Business Journal
Krista Sherer, SONOMA WEST TIMES
The contentious Dairyman project hit an obstacle in September with the response from the Sonoma County Regional Parks denying access across the Joe Rodota trail for the project. Residents and community groups throughout Sonoma County have opposed the project from the beginning, voicing that the large-scale winery and event center would not only violate zoning to the trail drastically effecting traffic, harm the ecosystem to the Laguna de Santa Rosa and negatively influence the overall character to the rural charm of West County.
In a Sept. 17 letter from Sonoma County Regional Parks (SCRP) Director Caryl Hart to Permit and Resource Management Department’s (PMRD) Supervising Planner Traci Tesconi, Hart wrote that the land owner currently has no legal rights to cross the trail and crosses at the county’s sufferance.
Read more about this project at: Proposed Dairyman Winery and event center corked for now – Sonoma West Times and News: News
Wine and Water Watch, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Wine and Water Watch (WWW) will launch a series of direct actions designed to educate people about the expanding wine industry in rural Sonoma County and in nearby counties, especially on our fragile coast. This emerging campaign seeks to “Save Our Coast.”
WWW is a four-county network–Sonoma, Napa, Lake, and Mendocino. It has hosted monthly meetings in Middletown, Jenner, Calistoga, Graton, Healdsburg, and Rohnert Park. Our mission statement follows: “We challenge the over-development of the wine tourism industry and promote ethical land and water use. We advocate agricultural practices that are ecologically regenerative.”
Some of us attended the Sept. 14 Timber Cove meeting about an effort to modify the Local Coastal Plan by Sonoma County’s Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD.) This would allow even more wineries as event centers on the coast, thus further damaging this unique environment where land meets the sea.
The late County Supervisor Bill Kortum lead a charge 50 years ago that prevented PG&E from building a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head. Now it is time to prevent further damage to our coast’s environment. Please visit Wine and Water Watch website for comment letters submitted that address the lack of protections people feel must be put into place to preserve the fragile coastal ecosystem.
People have only until Sept. 30 to express their concerns during this first stage.
Email PRMD-LCP-Update@sonoma-county.org. Of special concern are these three elements of the 9 element plan.
LAND USE: http://www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/docs/coastal/LCP-Element-02-Land-Use.pdf
AGRICULTURAL RESOURCES: http://www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/docs/coastal/LCP-Element-03-Agricultural-Resources.pdf
WATER RESOURCES: http://www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/docs/coastal/LCP-Element-05-Water-Resources.pdf
For background information and the full documents and maps on the Coastal Plan – please visit this website: Local Coastal Plan – Preliminary Draft: http://www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/docs/coastal/
If you would like more information or were unable to attend the public workshops, you can provide input by contacting Lisa Posternak by e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: 707-565-7383;
Comments can also be sent by mail to: Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department, 2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA 95403.
Source: Sonoma County Coastal Plan comments focus on event center and vineyards