Close to Home: New winery backlash rising

Wine Country is starting to take a good hard look at itself.|

Wine Country is starting to take a good hard look at itself. Residents in both Napa and Sonoma counties are organizing to challenge recent proposals for new and expanded wineries/event centers in rural areas. With the Sebastopol City Council unanimously voting no at its Feb. 3 review of the huge Dairyman Winery proposal and the Napa County Board of Supervisors meeting on March 10 to discuss winery over-development, a backlash against winery over-development is gaining steam.

Plans for the Dairyman Winery and Distillery event center project off Highway 12 near Llano Road in the greenbelt between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa include 87,000 square feet of buildings, an annual capacity of 500,000 cases of wine and 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits and up to 58 promotional events annually with as many as 600 guests. This would be one of the largest wineries in Sonoma County.

This overly ambitious, ill-conceived project should give pause to everyone in the county, as it could signal a worrisome trend toward larger and larger processing and events facilities on agriculturally zoned land.

Napa supervisors have had an ongoing discussion about limiting new wineries because they are running out of space. Are we going to pick up the slack for Napa County by permitting more and more industrial scale wineries and event centers to fill up our agricultural/green space land?

There are many reasons why this project should be stopped in its tracks.

Let’s start with water.

With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record last year, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought state of emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. Despite recent rains, the same may happen this year.

No one knows how long the drought will continue, but recent studies and computer modeling by the Sonoma County Water Agency indicate groundwater pumping in the Santa Rosa Plain watershed have resulted in a loss between the total amount of water flowing into and out of the basin.

An article in The Press Democrat Wednesday noted: “As the drought drags on, state water officials are considering expanding mandatory outdoor water restrictions on homeowners and adding new limits on restaurants, hotels and decorative fountains.”

The proposed winery and event center would be a gluttonous water user at a time when the county is working to conserve a supply already at risk.

How can we possibly consider allowing enormous new developments that will use significant water, when homeowners are being asked not to water lawns and to flush judiciously?

Traffic is another major problem. Highway 12 is an impacted two-lane road coming into Sebastopol. With weekly events bringing up to 600 guests, not to mention trucking in grapes to produce 500,000 cases of wine and 250,000 gallons of spirits, and their shipment out across Highway 12, even worse traffic congestion is inevitable.

The proposal also includes crossing the Joe Rodota Trail, which traverses the applicant’s property; creating safety hazards for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Large-scale processing facilities and event centers are more appropriate along the Highway 101 corridor. There is no feasible way to shoehorn this facility into this agriculturally zoned community separator accessed by a two-lane overcrowded highway.

This project is too large, would set a terrible precedent for our agricultural zoning and would likely cause significant impacts on the community and the environment.

Negative effects on water supply, traffic, flood control and the entire Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed could have widespread consequences beyond the footprint of this project.

Anna Ransome was co-owner of one of the first natural foods restaurants in Sonoma County, the original Blue Heron Inn in Duncans Mills. She is on the board of the Rural Alliance, an organization that works on land preservation issues.

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