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Expansion plan includes administration, hospitality center on winery land

  • Hop Kiln Winery, Healdsburg. June 15, 2012.

Hop Kiln Winery, an iconic presence in the Russian River Valley, wants to triple its wine-making capacity and add an administration and hospitality center for public and private events.

It's part of an overall plan that winery officials say is necessary for Hop Kiln to compete in a tougher economic world.

"There are a lot more wineries. We have rising costs. There is more foreign competition," said David DiLoreto, the winery manager and chief executive officer.

"We have to be able to compete. We have to be more competitive in drawing people here and reach out to groups," he said.

Special events, such as weddings, have become integral to winery business plans, generating revenue and selling wine while also boosting Sonoma County wine tourism as a whole, said Honore Comfort, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners.

"It is a very important part the wine industry, particularly for our smaller wineries," Comfort said. "The direct-to-consumer aspect, selling wines directly to consumers through tasting rooms, is important part of the wine industry, the pairing of food and wine and wine tourism."

If the county approves the plan, Hop Kiln could become the largest winery on Westside Road, a two-lane country road that skirts the Russian River and Dry Creek valleys and is heavily traveled by agriculture workers, winetasters and, increasingly, by recreational bicyclists.

The use permit application will be before the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments at 1 p.m. Thursday.

Sonoma County planners are not objecting to the wine-making part of the proposal, but want to scale back the number of events requested and the size of the administration and hospitality building.

It is the size of the new building and the scale of events that have spurred criticism from Healdsburg groups over potential increases in traffic and noise.

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