Winery projects moving forward in Sonoma Valley off Highway 12

Two stalled winery projects along a scenic section of Highway 12 outside Santa Rosa could break ground as soon as this year following the $1.4 million sale of one of the properties.

The wineries, slated for neighboring parcels on the north side of Highway 12, with views of nearby Hood Mountain and Annadel State Park, were approved in 2012 and 1999 by a county zoning board. The projects drew little public scrutiny at the time, but their advancement now has raised concerns in Sonoma Valley about the additional traffic, noise and other impacts the adjacent businesses could generate.

The worries reflect not just the outlook of some neighbors - Oakmont sits directly across the highway and Kenwood is just to the east - but the escalating Wine Country debate about the expansion of wineries, and especially those that double as event centers, into rural pockets of Sonoma County.

The developers behind the wineries say their projects are a good fit for the area.

“Anything could have happened on that property, so we wanted to do what we could to keep it agricultural and in the local wine business,” said Dean Bordigioni, one of the sellers in the $1.4 million deal and the owner of the neighboring parcel, which he plans to develop for his Bordigioni Family Winery. The buyer of the other property is Joe Reynoso, a local vintner who is seeking to build Sugarloaf Winery on the site.

The two properties comprise nearly 50 acres, mostly open space studded with oak woodlands. The approved plans for the two wineries call for hillside wine storage caves and permission to host a combined 50 special events per year.

Bordigioni, a former Harley-Davidson dealer with commercial real estate holdings in Las Vegas and Reno, said he plans to preserve the buildings on his 33-acre property, home to the historic Annadel Estate Winery. The site includes the family’s main residence and remains of the old stone winery built during the 1880s.

His plans include building a 5,000-case winery in an existing barn on the 34-acre site and, eventually, a 26,000-square-foot wine-production facility with capacity to produce 60,000 cases a year. He also intends to dig a 6,200-square-foot wine cave and host 30 special events per year, allowing 100 to 225 people per event. Additionally, he is allowed to participate in six industry-wide gatherings per year.

Bordigioni currently hosts 10 weddings per year and processes grapes from his 9.5-acre vineyard at the Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood.

Reynoso, whose design plans were approved Wednesday by county planning officials, is seeking to build his new 126,000-case Sugarloaf Winery on the 15-acre property next door and plant six acres of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. His use permit grants 20 special events per year and allows him to construct a new 12,000-square-foot wine cave.

The approval granted Wednesday by county planning officials marked the last administrative hurdle for Reynoso before construction.

“This is the culmination of a dream,” Reynoso said Wednesday. “These permits are difficult to get these days, and it’s a beautiful piece of property that is well-trafficked for a tasting room.”

However, nearby residents say in addition to concerns about the impact on roads and their peace and quiet, they are worried about new wineries draining groundwater and harming sensitive wildlife habitat.

Another previously approved winery is slated to be built just north of the future Bordigioni Family Winery, and two more applications for new wineries in the area are in the pipeline.

“The traffic congestion is causing problems - cars are backing up on Highway 12 and we’re worried about safety,” said Kathy Pons, president of the Valley of the Moon Association in Sonoma Valley.

Approval granted in 1999

Bordigioni and his business partner Jay Jensen, who owns the vineyard nursery company Novavine, situated on the other side of Reynoso’s property, purchased that vacant 15-acre site in 2013 from a group of outside investors. That group, known as Mobius-Painter LLC, secured approval from the county in 1999 to build a winery on the site.

The purchase by Bordigioni and Jensen was key to securing entryway rights through the intersection at Highway 12 and Oakmont Drive. It allows them to build a driveway and funnel traffic from Highway 12 to their businesses.

They had no immediate plans to sell the unused parcel until they were approached by Reynoso, who owns Reynoso Family Vineyards, a 550-acre estate fronting the Russian River in Alexander Valley.

“What he’s doing fits with Sonoma County, so it just made sense,” Bordigioni said. “We’re committed to preserving the quality of life we enjoy here. It’s time to move ahead.”

Bordigioni, Jensen and Reynoso are finalizing the deal, and the sale is currently in escrow, Bordigioni said.

The winery owners did not say when exactly they intend begin construction. Bordigioni said his project could break ground this year. The developer for Reynoso said the same thing.

The development plans have set off renewed neighborhood opposition from some Highway 12 residents, who say tasting room traffic and an influx of new wineries has amplified their concerns about the safety of the road and the overall impact on their quality of life.

“We’re also concerned about the noise,” said Pons, the Valley of the Moon Association president.

Pons acknowledged there is little neighbors can do to change winery approvals already granted. She said she’s hoping winery owners will work with neighborhood groups to stagger special events throughout the year, so they aren’t all clustered on popular Wine Country weekends known to draw crowds of tourists to the region.

“There’s not much we can do if something is already allowed, but there has to be some balance,” Pons said.

Hundreds more events

She highlighted findings of a Valley of the Moon Association survey tallying an influx of tasting rooms and special events permitted in Sonoma Valley. The survey found that the county since 2004 has given new and existing wineries permission to hold nearly 300 additional events in the valley.

“We’re just seeing more and more,” she said.

County planning officials are reviewing applications for at least two new wineries along Highway 12.

Lauren Krause and Alexa Wood, who own Beltane Ranch in Glen Ellen with Rosemary and Alex Wood, are seeking to turn their upscale bed-and-breakfast and vineyard estate into a working winery. Their application to open a 15,000-case winery and host 20 events per year hit the desk of county planning officials this week.

Steve Ledson, who owns Ledson Winery and Vineyards in Kenwood, also is seeking to build a new winery. His application for a 50,000-case winery at Highway 12 and Frey Road seeks to convert open fields into a vineyard with two wine production buildings. The winery would offer public tasting and feature a total of 32 events per year.

Bordigioni responded to concerns voiced by Pons and other residents over his new winery, and the larger impact of the county’s signature industry. He characterized the transformation of vacant land into vineyards and wineries as a “best-case scenario.”

“Look, we’re not saints, we’re businessmen,” he said. “But that land is not going to stay empty, so it’s best it stays in the hands of locals who want to keep it primarily agricultural.”

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or On Twitter @ahartreports.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The owners of Beltane Ranch are seeking to convert an existing building into a winery. This story has been updated to more precisely describe the nature of the project and to add the names of co-owners Rosemary and Alex Wood.

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