A Windsor winery was granted approval Thursday to more than double its production capacity and hold more than a couple dozen public events annually, despite protests from nearby residents worried about the increased traffic and potential disruption it could bring.
Windsor Oaks Winery, located at the end of a narrow country road north of Arata Lane, will be able to add public tasting, stage a limited number of parties, special events and even weddings.
But the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments reduced the number and size of the events the owner had sought and rejected his request to hold one concert and one play with up to 300 guests.
"I can't support a concert and play," said Commissioner Jason Liles. While the property might be able to handle it, Liles said, it would set a new precedent for other wineries in the North County area he represents.
Conflicts between wineries and neighbors are not uncommon in Wine Country, with rural residents sometimes objecting to the influx of traffic, noise and inebriated patrons.
Controversies have flared periodically, especially in Sonoma and Dry Creek valleys where there is a higher concentration of wineries.
Thursday's hearing was somewhat unique in that Windsor Oaks is relatively isolated, secluded on a 472-acre portion of a 710-acre ranch.
It also pitted horses against grapes, since the owners of nearby Smart Farm Equestrian Center said the increased cars would spook their horses and likely throw and injure riders.
Michael Murphy, a former president of the Sonoma County Fair, said "horses are flight animals," and said they could easily become frightened by the increased cars that will be coming close by the road leading to the winery.
Joy Koch, owner of the equestrian farm off Liberty Oak Road, said military veterans and at-risk children come there for therapy, peace and quiet, "not people screaming out of limos and racing by."
She said the party buses will come within 10 feet of her equestrian arena.
But representatives for winery owner Bob Stein pointed out that the horse facility was built long after the private 1920s road the winery will use to bring in visitors.
A traffic study showed there would be an average of 53 new daily trips generated by the events at Windsor Oaks. Most of the traffic is to be funneled down the winery road, which will be improved, with about three winery trucks a day continuing to use Hillview Road to access Windsor Oaks.
Stein said the property is a "jewel," and said the winery, which just won a Best of Class award for its sauvignon blanc at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, is "going to be very classy."
Stein said he is sensitive to neighbors and will continue to work with them.
There were also concerns from residents about the traffic turning into, or out of Windsor Oaks Winery Road from Arata Lane.
In response, commissioners required the winery to hire traffic monitors at the intersection for special events that draw more than 100 people.
In the end the board approved eight events per year limited to 60 guests; 10 events limited to 100 visitors; one event with 300 guests; three weddings with no more than 100 guests each; and 10 days of industry-wide events.
The winery's capacity will also be allowed to rise to 100,000 cases, up from the 43,000 cases it can produce now at the location.