Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sonoma CoastTags , , ,

Critics, supporters of Sonoma County wineries pack hearing on new regulations

An estimated 500 people packed the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa on Monday for a meeting to gather public input on potential new regulations on winery development in Sonoma County — a high-profile issue that has drawn backlash from rural residents protesting growth as well as sharp criticism from wine industry representatives who say they are helping preserve open space.
Neighbors who live in prime grape-growing regions like the Dry Creek and Sonoma valleys have been increasingly vocal over the past year about the surge in applications for new wineries, as well as the spread of tasting rooms and wineries that double as event centers.
Scores of rural residents, environmentalists and industry experts spoke at Monday’s three-hour meeting in front of a crowd that appeared split on the issue.
About half the audience wore green T-shirts emblazoned with thick white lettering that read “Proud to support Sonoma County Agriculture,” while others wore stickers that said “Let’s preserve rural Sonoma County.”
Critics say the proliferating operations are drawing unruly crowds, traffic and noise to their bucolic settings, threatening public safety, natural resources and a rural quality of life.
“The present pace of wineries, tasting rooms and events is increasing at an exponential pace — more regulations are needed,” said Wendy Krupnick, a Santa Rosa Junior College teacher who is active with the nonprofit Community Alliance with Family Farms. “This cannot be sustained without depletion of the agricultural land and water, creating a problem that will discourage visitors and frustrate residents.”
Read more at: Critics, supporters of Sonoma County wineries pack hearing | The Press Democrat

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Planning update for Sonoma County coast draws scrutiny 


Today’s public meeting runs from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Timber Cove Fire Station, 30800 Seaview Road.

More information and a copy of the draft plan are available online at

Newly drafted guidelines for future development along the Sonoma Coast are inspiring interest and, in some cases, anxiety about potential policy shifts that some fear could alter their cherished coastline for the worse.
Land-use activists are especially concerned about broad language on the topic of agricultural tourism, marketing and promotion that they say paves the way for winery event centers of the sort that have sparked opposition inland, and they’re gearing up for a fight.
“We feel that the coast is a really inappropriate place for that to be happening — that the coast needs the protection that is already in the general plan, and that that language just opens up the coast to development by wineries,” said Sebastopol resident Reuben Weinzveg, a spokesman for Residents to Preserve Rural Sonoma County.
At issue is an update of the county’s Local Coastal Plan, required by the California Coastal Commission and meant to guide planning for the next 20 years in a roughly 86-square-mile area that includes the 55-mile coastline and inland areas along the Russian River estuary, the Estero Americano near Valley Ford and portions of the Gualala River basin. Agricultural uses account for 32 percent of the land-use designations in the area.
Read more at: Planning effort for Sonoma County coast draws scrutiny | The Press Democrat

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Napa County eyes tighter winery permit oversight 

Acknowledging public sentiment to tighten up enforcement of permits for wine production in Napa County, the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 11 got their first look at new tools for doing so, including reviewing compliance annually, attaching violation notices to property records and making those operating flagrantly outside their limits have a one year or longer “timeout” in seeking permission for permit changes.
This discussion on major changes to the way the county keeps tabs on what wineries are doing comes amid growing public concern about wine production and hospitality operations in rural areas of Napa and Sonoma counties. And some involved in planning policy in Sonoma County have been looking at the current Napa County winery audit as a potential model for measuring and regulating wine-related visitation and facility scaling in rural areas.
Full public hearings on such measures are set to come in September and November, so the board was giving staff direction on get-tougher recommendations coming from planning and building staff as well as an advisory committee of agriculture and environmental protection representatives and the most recent Napa County Grand Jury.
Read more at: Napa County eyes tighter winery permit oversight | North Bay Business Journal

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Winery projects moving forward in Sonoma Valley off Highway 12


A Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA) survey tallying an influx of tasting rooms and special events permitted in Sonoma Valley found that since 2004 the county has given new and existing wineries permission to hold nearly 300 additional events in the valley.
Link to VOTMA 2014 survey

Two stalled winery projects along a scenic section of Highway 12 outside Santa Rosa could break ground as soon as this year following the $1.4 million sale of one of the properties.
The wineries, slated for neighboring parcels on the north side of Highway 12, with views of nearby Hood Mountain and Annadel State Park, were approved in 2012 and 1999 by a county zoning board. The projects drew little public scrutiny at the time, but their advancement now has raised concerns in Sonoma Valley about the additional traffic, noise and other impacts the adjacent businesses could generate.
The worries reflect not just the outlook of some neighbors — Oakmont sits directly across the highway and Kenwood is just to the east — but the escalating Wine Country debate about the expansion of wineries, and especially those that double as event centers, into rural pockets of Sonoma County.
Read more at: Winery projects moving forward in Sonoma Valley off | The Press Democrat

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Winery event center backlash grows in rural communities

Padi Selwyn, Co-chair, Preserve Rural Sonoma County, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
They used to call it God’s Country and then the Redwood Empire during the logging years. After a planting spree in the 1990’s, when vineyard acreage more than doubled to more than 60,000 acres, Sonoma County was rebranded appropriately as Wine Country. This boom created a frenzy of activity, the rampant overdevelopment of wineries and event centers, 90% of which are now located in our rural areas – that’s 439 facilities.
Cumulative Impacts 
The County of Sonoma has ignored the cumulative impact these facilities are having on traffic safety, our watersheds, our neighborhoods, and the intent of our general plan, which was to preserve greenbelt areas and community separators. They have ignored agricultural zoning by bending the rules to accommodate big business wine, and now we are seeing irresponsible behavior by the Board of Zoning.
On June 4th, the 7171 West Dry Creek micro-winery and mega-Event Center was presented to the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA)/Planning Commission.  However, the project defined in the June Staff Report was not the same project description presented for public scrutiny and input for the cancelled May 21st hearing.  Rather, it was materially different than both the project defined in the Use Permit and the previous application upon which the County based its environmental review.
The BZA decision included multiple fatal flaws:
1) the public had no chance to review the revised application,
2) the impacts of the intensified hospitality uses, including a commercial kitchen and weddings and 4,000 square feet of new facilities were never evaluated for impacts to road safety, and
3) the expert technical studies submitted by neighbors were ignored.
This process was clearly unethical and contrary to state law, yet it was approved by the BZA in a 4 to 1 vote!
Overtaking Rural Regions
Preserve Rural Sonoma County (PRSC) is challenging the very disturbing trend of the county to blindly approve more and more event centers overtaking our rural areas, on one and two lane roads, where road safety issues and traffic congestion continue to deteriorate. The state of California is requiring groundwater sustainability – yet the county keeps approving more and more of these water-guzzling projects.
There are 2,600 special winery events each year permitted by the county, and an unknown number of non-permitted events. There are now twice as many event centers as the General Plan planned for by the year 2020! It seems that our Planning Commissioners and BZA members have not read the plan, yet they have been entrusted with our future.
Dairyman Winery/Factory
The Dairyman project, proposed for just outside the Sebastopol city limits on Hwy 12, is especially egregious as it may locate a huge development in an environmentally sensitive community separator, converting agricultural land into an industrial sized bottling production and party facility.  This violates the intent of the greenbelt community separator and the General Plan.

Joseph Wagner, the developer, and Caymus family of winemakers, has requested a use permit for:
• The production of 500,000 cases of wine, 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits
• 62 events each year with up to 600 guests each
• 87k square feet of production and office areas
They will be trucking in 99% of their raw materials, as they only grow 1% of what they need for their production goals. Hwy 12 is already a traffic nightmare and with the number of events and tanker trucks, we foresee an untenable situation.
The Wagner family was fined $1 million 2 years ago in Napa’s largest winery settlement for exceeding the permitted production capacity at their Rutherford winery, producing 20x more wine than allowed by their permit.  NOT a good neighbor!
The driveway into the Dairyman property crosses the Joe Rodota Trail, our popular walking/bike path. This will create safety hazards.
Because the property was formerly a dairy, it is zoned agricultural. We don’t believe that an industrial sized bottling and distillery factory should be allowed on land designated as agricultural and in a community separator.
The Dairyman project is the wrong size, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.  
Balance Sought
With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, it’s hard to fathom how proposals for winery/resort/event center projects continue to be considered by our county.
County officials must begin to restore the balance between supporting tourism, without impacting the wonderful rural character that makes this area such a great place to live, to work and to visit.
Our battle is going to be a long one.  But, we feel that protecting our rural lifestyle and scenic beauty is critical work, for us and future generations.
To keep updated on these issues, – visit
And join the Facebook supporters at

Source: Winery Event Center Backlash Grows in Rural Communities, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

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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

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County approves another new Dry Creek Valley winery

Sonoma County approves another new Dry Creek Valley winery

Eloísa Ruano González, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Following a decision by Sonoma County zoning officials Thursday, an Illinois couple has the go-ahead to build a new winery, tasting room and wine cave on West Dry Creek Road, northwest of Healdsburg.
The 4-1 vote by the Board of Zoning Adjustments gave Mary Roy and Robert Covert approval to construct a 5,000-case winery and tasting room, as well as a nearly 4,800-square-foot wine cave on the 47-acre property.
The decision came over the objections of several neighbors, who contend there are too many wineries on narrow West Dry Creek Road. With Seaton Winery under construction less than a tenth of a mile to the north and Williamson Winery approved to be built a half-mile to the south, neighbors argued adding another winery would create serious traffic safety problems and take away from the valley’s rural character.
“The cumulative effect of these three wineries and tasting rooms when they all commence operations will have a serious impact on this narrow, half-mile section of West Dry Creek Road,” said Brian Watanabe, who lives near the property owned by Roy and Covert.
The couple purchased the site, which includes 20 acres of vineyards, two years ago. It was previously approved for a 5,000-case winery, tasting room and 3,000-square-foot wine cave.
Roy and Covert secured approval to expand the cave and remove a mobile home on the site and replace it with a 1,800-square-foot building, which will house a 665-square-foot tasting room and a commercial kitchen. They initially wanted to place the tasting room on a knoll but changed their plans after neighbors voiced concerns.
The couple also wanted to build an outdoor pizza oven and grill. Concerned the winery would focus too much on food service, commissioners quashed that idea.
The winery, however, has permission to host industry-related events eight days out of the year. It also can hold eight private events, such as winemaker dinners, charity fundraisers and weddings, with up to 80 attendees each. Weddings will be limited to five a year, and no large buses will be allowed on the site.
Read more at: Sonoma County approves new Dry Creek Valley winery | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County forms advisory panel for crafting winery regulations

Sonoma County forms advisory panel for crafting winery regulations

Sonoma County planning officials have named high-powered winery executives, leading environmentalists and several rural residents to a 21-member panel formed to give input on the highly charged issue of winery development in the county.
The group includes officials from Jackson Family Wines and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau as well as neighborhood representatives concerned about development encroaching on the county’s rural character.
Between next month and March 2016, the panel is charged with crafting proposed regulations for the unincorporated area that could set new standards for events at wineries, including how many should be allowed per year and what type — from weddings to wine pairing dinners and industry events such as barrel tasting weekend.
The advisory process, set up to inform county planners and the Board of Supervisors, is launching amid an escalating debate over winery development in the county, focused especially on new and expanding sites that seek to double as event centers. The outcome, including potential tighter limits and more strict enforcement for wineries, is seen as having high stakes for the region’s signature industry.
“This is very important to the industry, but the impacts are also important to neighborhood activists,” said Tennis Wick, director of the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department, which oversees planning and building permits, including those for new or expanded wineries. “We’re going to be focused on what type of events should be allowed, and potential over-concentration of events in some areas.”
Rural residents have voiced increased concern about an onslaught of traffic and noise they say is associated with a growing number of special gatherings at wineries situated on backcountry roads. Neighbors also are worried about the strain on the region’s natural resources, including groundwater.
Winery owners and industry representatives say their projects have limited impacts, and they point to measures they have taken to reduce traffic and noise in their neighborhoods. They also defend their use of events to promote their businesses, saying such gatherings are crucial to boost direct sales.
Both sides acknowledge that the long-simmering debate about the issue has reached a boiling point.
Read more via: Sonoma County forms advisory panel for crafting winery | The Press Democrat

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Planning appointee key in winery debate

Before Willie Lamberson became a Sonoma County planning commissioner this year, the ceramic tile contractor cut a low-key public profile, with little attachment to the workings of local government beyond a penchant for political involvement handed down years ago from his father, also a tile contractor and Army veteran.
In just four months, however, Lamberson, 69, has inserted himself into the center of an escalating debate about winery development in the county, attracting scrutiny due to his strong stands for and against a number of high-profile projects, as well as for blunt public comments he made about neighbors who complain about the wine industry.
Lamberson, a former grape grower who had never before held a public post, was appointed to his seat by newly elected county Supervisor James Gore to represent the north county. In his first meeting on the Board of Zoning Adjustments in January, he took a firm stand against celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s plans for a new Santa Rosa-area winery, steering the panel to a unanimous rejection of the contentious proposal. The decision sent shock waves across Wine Country, surprising especially those who have sought greater curbs on winery projects.
“He was brand-new, and willing to say ‘No,’ so that decision rocked so many people back on their heels,” said Rue Furch, a former longtime planning commissioner who has spoken out against the proliferation of wineries in rural areas. “Willie made statements unlike anything we’ve heard for a long, long time. We started saying, ‘What will he do next?’ ”
Read more via: Sonoma County planning commissioner Willie Lamberson settles into | The Press Democrat

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Dairyman winery proposal faces challenges from community

A massive winery proposed by a Napa County winemaker near the crossroads of Highway 12 and Llano Road east of Sebastopol will now be subject to a full environmental review, but opponents of the project are still pulling out all the stops in hopes of stopping it.
The applicant, Joe Wagner, a second-generation vintner from the Caymus winemaking family, agreed to a full environmental impact report (EIR) early this month for his Dairyman project after receiving significant backlash from the community.
Opposition to the proposed winery and event center that envisions 500,000 cases of wine production a year, 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits, as well as about 60 events a year and wine tasting, became official at a Feb. 4 Sebastopol city council meeting.
Although the 68-acre property is outside of Sebastopol’s jurisdiction, council voiced opposition to the project and solidarity with members of the public that showed up in force once the winery application became public in late January.“
After (the council meeting), we met with a number of people and decided we needed to mobilize,” Ruben Weinzeg said.
To that end, Weinzeg joined a group spearheading the creation of Neighbors to Preserve Rural Sonoma County (PRSC), which is working in partnership with the Rural Alliance, a local grassroots organization “working to preserve the natural resources and rural character of Sonoma County.”
PRSC believes it has discovered a technicality that could throw a wrench in the works, as the winery will need to get an easement to cross the Joe Rodota Trail for access to the property.
The groups are encouraging the Sonoma County Parks and Recreation Department to deny the easement, citing precedence when the county denied an easement to Santa Rosa Junior College for a 20-acre parcel on Highway 116 to the north of Sebastopol that abuts the JRT.
That property now belongs to Sebastopol Independent Charter School, which is in talks with the county Regional Parks Department.But the Dairyman process is still in its infancy, as the EIR will take at least a year and has not even officially begun as yet.
Read more via: Winery proposal faces challenges from community – Sonoma West Times and News: News