A year after he launched Tom McKiernan Wines, Winemaker Ed Vadney had a dream for his family’s winery in Sonoma. It was a dream that became a reality after he acquired the building that housed Vadney Estates, the former home of Vadney Vineyards. But the dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
Sonoma County has become home to scores of wineries in recent years, with many more opening in the coming years. In fact, it was the sixth-most-active county in California in terms of new wineries, with 13 open in 2011. But as winery operations expand, the rules and regulations that regulate how they are conducted are changing.
The vineyards are beautiful, the vines are alive and producing. But they just can’t get enough of the government (and the wineries are usually not the ones to complain about the government). The government, in its infinite wisdom, wants to make sure that the vineyards are operated in a way that is acceptable to the society we live in today. The government wants to regulate even the smallest of trifles. Vineyards are facing more burdens than ever before, and they have little choice but to comply.. Read more about winery in california and let us know what you think.View
The ongoing battle between wineries and Sonoma County over the determination of future permits for wineries and their operations is nearing its final stages. After years of research, advocacy and discussion, the virtual conference and workshop on 18… In February, 200 winemakers, tasting room managers, hospitality professionals and community activists gathered to discuss the future of wineries and event licensing.
Additional comments were received following the workshop and a draft Wine Regulation is now before the Planning Board.
Grape growers like Mike Martini of Taft Street Winery have been active in conveying their concerns to the district. Says he: I looked at the latest draft, and it’s being considered by a lot of people. On its face, the bill is encouraging because it recognizes that wineries are allowed as one of three agricultural uses in the district.
The real battle is between people who move to a bucolic wine region and then discover that wineries are needed.
Wine is grown, and it must be tempered by pruning. The main problems are traffic, sanitation, parking and noise. Noise regulations already exist in the District and are measured in decibels, noise levels and times of day. Other issues are important, but there is still uncertainty about the frequency of events and operations in the county. For example, you don’t regulate whether or not the supermarket can host a Taco Tuesday every week, and you don’t need permission to do so.
Many vintners believe that a few unscrupulous actors caused the district’s licensing ordinance to be changed, but for the most part vintners get along well with their neighbors. The real battle is between people who move to a bucolic wine region and then discover that wineries are needed. Then they complain about the noise, dust, fans and traffic in this agricultural area, Martini said.
Three neighborhoods, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley and Westside Road, have been targeted by civic groups who openly advocate for the preservation of Sonoma County’s landscape, which they say is why they moved here. However, this argument ignores the role wineries have played in preserving the agricultural character of the county, rather than urbanizing like Silicon Valley or similar developed areas.
Winemaker David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars, who grew up in the Santa Clara Valley, notes: I have seen this valley evolve from orchards to technological development. Nonetheless, grape growing in Sonoma County, where farm right and open space ordinances are in place, has helped keep agriculture in the transition from apples and plums to grapes in the evolution of agriculture.
Many leading family wineries have grown other crops in the past and are now active in viticulture. The Martinelli’s and Dutton’s grew apples, the Mauritzen’s plums, and the Westside Farms ranch we are now developing was originally purchased in 1869 for farming.
These families and others are struggling to keep agriculture alive in the county, but even as they recover from the devastating wildfires and pandemic that threatened their economic model, they are seeing new tensions arise in their own neighborhoods.
So far, the Dry Creek Valley Citizen Action Committee has been working with the grape growers on the terms of their coexistence, and another committee in Sonoma Valley is close to an agreement. The real stumbling block remains the Westside Road, where Mr. Ramey, a longtime resident and winemaker, has had to deal with the controversy, lies and incredible cost of his Westside Road project.
This points to another challenge facing wine producers, namely the increasing cost of authorisation for wine producers. Mike Martini recalls that his first winemaking license, in 1982, cost about $1,000 and took three weeks to complete. His 1990 upgrade cost $10,000 and lasted six months. The permitting process for Westside Road Farms has taken David Ramey more than four years and cost him so much money that he now needs to raise the money to make the project a reality.
The District’s position has changed and industry-sponsored events must be specifically approved in the use permit.
Ben Neuman, supervisory and compliance manager for the Sonoma County Grape Growers, handled the permits at the county level and is now a consultant for the grape growers’ organization. He believes the new draft ordinance nullifies the historic process of licensing wineries in Sonoma County.
In short, the Commission staff report examines the historical application of zoning and argues that all events that occurred prior to the 1989 General Plan are unresolved. I can’t agree with that statement, Neuman says.
Until a few years ago, the District considered participation in industry-sponsored events to be part of normal business operations if the winery had a legitimate tasting room open to the public (as opposed to an appointment-only tasting) and the participation met the conditions of the use permit. Since I left in late 2015, the province’s position has changed and now requires explicit permission in the user permit to participate in industry-sponsored events. The latter development is now included in the draft regulations. It is not clear that this requirement represents a departure from past practice.
Finally, the District should recognize that the definition of events and activities is evolving and should establish a process for updating and refining use permits that have been obtained in accordance with the law or whose definition is unclear. In addition, there should be an amnesty for the county’s application of possible civil penalties to modern use permits found not to be in compliance with the proposed event ordinance, Neuman said.
Sonoma Permit staff will discuss the final draft ordinance on June 3 at 1:50 p.m. or later at the county planning commission. The public may participate in the hearing via Zoom or by telephone.
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