A Napa County winemaker whose plans for a large-scale winery and distillery on Highway 12 between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa have sparked significant dispute since they were unveiled earlier this year has decided to subject the project to a full environmental impact report in hopes of addressing the public’s many questions and concerns.
Joe Wagner, a member of the Caymus Vineyards winemaking family, said it’s been clear for weeks that the breadth of opposition to his Dairyman project demanded greater effort on his part to demonstrate its potential for improving the site’s appearance and productivity without substantial environmental harm.
He said he confirmed his decision to engage in a full-scale independent environmental review for the project after meeting last week with 5th District Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who agreed it was the right approach.
“Obviously, it’s expensive and lengthy,” Wagner said Friday, “but it is something that allows the community the opportunity to join in and chime in and become part of the process.”
But it’s not clear additional study will assuage Wagner’s critics, some of whom are holding a community gathering Saturday in Jenner to discuss the larger winery backlash that organizer Shepherd Bliss said has coalesced around the Dairyman plan and other recent winery proposals.
“It is a stoppable project,” said Bliss, a Sebastopol farmer and longtime activist, “and we will stop it.”
Wagner has used pinot noir grapes grown on the former Medeiros Dairy site near Llano Road since 2003, adding them to premium wines bottled under his Belle Glos label.
He bought the full 68-acre property about two years ago and proposes converting existing buildings and constructing new ones for a winery and distillery capable of producing up to 500,000 cases of wine and 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits annually, as well as an administration building and hospitality center.
The Dairyman facility would host daily tours and wine tasting, as well as about 58 promotional events each year, some for as many as 600 people, according to an application submitted to the county planning department last winter.
Wagner submitted initial biological and traffic studies with his application for a county use permit in hopes of avoiding the kind of full environmental review to which he has now committed. The project would require a new left-turn lane from Highway 12 to accommodate additional traffic. Wagner said he also plans to build only on areas of the property that already were disturbed by the dairy operation so as to leave any tiger salamander habitat untouched.
But opposition to the proposal was immediate when it became public in late January, with opponents particularly citing the potential for increased noise and traffic on the already busy two-lane corridor between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa; plans for the winery entry drive to cross the popular Joe Rodota Trail; and concerns about the volume of water that would be needed for the facility, especially amid the state’s prolonged drought.
The Sebastopol City Council, though it has no jurisdiction over land-use decisions for the site, voted unanimously Feb. 3 to urge county decision-makers to reject the project. The signal came amid a clear shift in the local political climate that has intensified public scrutiny of — and opposition to — winery projects, which some critics say too often resemble event centers or industrial plants rather than agricultural sites.