Guy Fieri jumps into the wine business

Guy Fieri, a celebrity chef known for his rowdy personality, spiky hair and love of roadside diners, is adding an unexpected venture to his mix: winemaking.

The star of the Food Network series "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" has bought a five-acre vineyard of pinot noir grapes in the Russian River Valley appellation and submitted an application to open a wine tasting room on Willowside Road.

"Ever since I moved to Sonoma County and saw all this incredible environment of wine, from the agricultural side of it to the business side of it, to the community involvement side of it ... I've just been in awe," Fieri said Friday. "So my wife and I were talking about it, and saying, &‘Can we do that some day?'"

Fieri bought the property last year. In his first vintage, 2012, he sold his grapes to Jackson Family Wines for its La Crema brand and to Williams Selyem winery in Healdsburg, which both have had long-term contracts to purchase grapes from the vineyard.

He has initiated organic farming methods on the vineyard and is working with a vineyard management company to handle the vines, which were planted about 10 years ago.

If Fieri's plans are approved, a three-bedroom home on the property that has served as a crash pad for visiting friends will be renovated to add a tasting room, Fieri said. He also hopes to use the grounds to educate children about cooking, he said.

Architects for the project are envisioning an Italian piazza, with raised garden beds, olive trees and mountain views, according to the application submitted to the county by his company, Knuckle Sandwich LLC. Fieri also requested permission to host 14 events per year, including wine industry events, some with more than 100 attendees. The events won't have amplified music, the application said.

The tasting room, events and Fieri's ability to operate a commercial kitchen on the property all are subject to county approval. At this stage, the county has requested studies on what impact the project would have on the environment, including a noise study. The application is considered incomplete until those studies are done, said Sigrid Swedenborg, a planner for Sonoma County.

<CW-20>"What we're concerned about is the noise from the events and the traffic, and how that could impact the nearby residents," Swedenborg said.</CW>

The quiet Santa Rosa street is popular with bicyclists and songbirds alike, and Fieri's property abuts a horse farm on one side and vineyards on the other. Across the street are homes sitting on vast fields.

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