A 10,000-case winery long planned in Knights Valley faces a crucial and possibly controversial vote this week from Sonoma County supervisors, reviving a yearslong public debate about the role of winemaking in the picturesque area northwest of Calistoga.
Slated for a more than 86-acre site about 1 mile west of Highway 128, the proposed Knights Bridge Winery has been several years in the making already, but it has been met with fierce opposition from an organized group of local residents whose objections previously thwarted two other winery projects.
Those residents, joined by another neighborhood group, appealed planning officials’ 2015 approval of the Knights Bridge project, and the matter is now up for consideration Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.
At stake is whether Knights Valley, a pristine grape- growing region dividing a corner of northern Sonoma County from Napa Valley, will get its second winery, or whether local concerns about the potential strain on precious groundwater supplies and other issues will prevail.
Neighbors say the county has failed to appropriately study the possible impacts of the winery, and they want to see an exhaustive environmental analysis completed before the project moves forward.
Knights Bridge Vineyards co-founder Jim Bailey has sought to assuage neighbors’ concerns, telling them in a letter earlier this summer that the winery he plans won’t be visible from “any public road.”
“I purchased our Knights Valley property for the same reason as most of you, for the quiet, agricultural nature, and this winery does not intend to change that,” Bailey wrote. “I think we all share the same concerns, whether it’s water, traffic, or whatever, and we honestly feel that we have done our best to address them and put the best and most careful plan in place.”
Bailey could not be reached for comment last week. The Knights Bridge brand is currently based in Calistoga.
The site off Spencer Lane includes about 43 acres of vineyards, mostly cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc grapes, according to county planner Georgia McDaniel. The property also includes two residences: a 10-bedroom, 10-bath mansion as well as a smaller residence, McDaniel said.
Bailey and his team want to develop a 5,500-square-foot winery building and about 17,730 square feet of wine caves, among other additions. The winery would produce a maximum 10,400 cases per year, and tasting would occur by appointment only, with visitors capped at no more than 13 people per day. The winery would not be allowed to host any events.
The Maacama Watershed Alliance, a Knights Valley environmental group, says the project demands a deeper study of its potential effects on groundwater, already a scarce resource in the area.
While the applicant did commission a groundwater analysis — which was subsequently peer reviewed — critics are seeking a full-blown environmental impact report that would entail a much more thorough and expensive review of the project.
That review is required for such a project under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, opponents claim.
“We don’t oppose wineries or winery projects or the winery industry, but you can’t circumvent CEQA and approve these without proper review,” said Craig Enyart, a spokesperson for the watershed alliance.
McDaniel said county officials have so far decided an environmental impact report was not necessary because the project’s potential impacts can be offset to “less than significant” levels.