A Petaluma surgeon is seeking county permission to build an artisanal distillery on a vineyard in Geyserville, the latest addition to Sonoma County's burgeoning liquor industry.
"It will be high end, small batch, high quality," said Dr. Michael Bozuk Jr., who also wants to build a house on the property as a second home for his family. "It will all be made from local products."
Bozuk wants to erect a 10,700-square-foot production facility in a clearing in the midst of an existing vineyard on a 3.1 acre plot. He plans to preserve about 2 acres of the existing vineyard, grapes which he contracts to area producers.
The county's Design Review Commission approved the plan last week after Bozuk made some changes to meet concerns from neighbors, including changing to a peaked roof from a curved one and changing the exterior color to make the structure less visible.
The proposal will go before the county Board of Zoning Adjustments sometime early next year, county Planner Misti Harris said. That board will give the final approval, although it could come before the supervisors if someone appeals the zoning board's action.
The commission also asked for Bozuk to justify the relatively large size of the distillery building when it comes before the zoning board. He said this week that the kind of farm-to-bottle brandy production he anticipates requires more storage space than a winery and that he would argue before the board that keeping all the functions under one roof would cut down on truck traffic.
Bozuk said he will continue his surgery practice and hand distilling off to master distiller Jan Balog. The facility will produce about 15,000 litres or about 4,000 gallons, per year of various fruit-based brandies and liqueurs.
The facility will not be open to the public for tours or tastings.
Although he will not be a hands-on distiller, Bozuk said the project brings him back to his family roots in Slovakia, where his ancestors have produced brandies for generations.
It's also a family-based operation in that the building was designed by his father, Los Angeles-based architect Michael Bozuk Sr.
This is the latest in a string of artisanal distilleries that have popped up in the area, including HelloCello/Prohibition Spirits in Sonoma, which produces brandy, lemoncello, and various spirits; and Spirit Works in Sebastopol, which specializes in vodka, gin, and sloe gin, produced from scratch using California-grown wheat.
"Since California is a producer of top-notch fruit, it only makes sense to bring this type of production locally," Bozuk wrote in a letter introducing the project. "Micro distilling is expected to grow over the next decade, as consumers are starting to look at handcrafted distillates that are locally produced."
A report from the Sonoma County Economic Development Board earlier this year found that craft distilling was exploding nationwide, with the number of operations jumping from 52 in 2005 to 234 in 2011. California's rigid licensing rules for distilleries are an impediment to growth, the report found, but it predicted artisan production could become a small but significant part of the local economy.
Bozuk is bullish on the future, despite the regulatory hurdles.
"We are in the same stage that microbreweries were 20 years ago, and they are now a serious competition to the large brewery conglomerates," he said.