Close to Home: Wine industry needs to stand firmly with the community

I run a wine and dine club with more than 2,000 Sonoma County residents. I want my wine industry to be good neighbors.|

I run a wine and dine club with more than 2,000 Sonoma County residents. I want my wine industry to be good neighbors. That means vineyards are vineyards, and any on-site winery should reflect that vineyard's footprint.

A recent Press Democrat letter ('Trial crossing,' Jan. 5) supported converting our agricultural landscape in part with urban-sized processing and huge event facilities, complete with a freeway-sized underpass. Clearly, the proposed Dairyman project is completely out of scale for its small vineyard adjacent to a fragile wetland.

Development should respect the landscape, especially recreational resources like one of our very few bike trails.

Conversion of agricultural lands to this industrial usage goes against the entire Sonoma County planning process — from the general plan requirements through the required environmental review.

These protective Sonoma County policies were created in part by the late Bill Kortum, a former county supervisor, who also helped create our critical open space district, coastal zoning and kept a nuclear power plant out of Bodega Bay. We all need to respect the beauty of our natural landscape, protected by those who came before us.

The lack of legal access across the Joe Rodota trail is only one of many stumbling blocks to this project. The local community has voiced many serious objections on size, safety, water and more.

My wine industry needs to stand firm against the misuse of agricultural lands with oversized projects like this. Do we want a row of tunnels, three- to four-lanes wide, with a massive entrance and exit lanes to accommodate winery trucks, along with hundreds of visitors at 'promotional events'? Do we really want freeway off-ramps in our agricultural buffer zones? Shouldn't large event venues for hundreds of people be sited in commercial areas?

If Dairyman is approved, there are many other rural landowners who could then demand equal development rights, forcing their way over or under our recreational areas again and again.

It's time for Joe Wagner to stop wasting money on this poorly sited project, trying to engineer around the public interest. A safety report to the county parks department concluded that no grade-level crossing would be safe for joggers, pedestrians or bicyclists given the hundreds of tourists cars and hundreds of grape trucks that would be exiting directly off of Highway 12.

Dairyman's huge cement buildings are reminiscent of the mistakenly approved golf driving range on Highway 12 with its rusty towers.

We won't allow the county to repeat that mistake. We will continue to fight this ill-conceived project.

Engineers and lawyers are not necessarily the best source of business advice. They are paid handsomely to keep things going forward but can fail to see the big picture. Wagner needs to get better advice from within our industry and find better business opportunities that are compatible with the land and the community itself.

As a business owner in Sonoma County for 16 years, I urge Wagner: please pull this project now.

Stop throwing good after bad and refocus on the bigger picture.

If you really wish to create your own Sonoma County winery, please look outside our agriculture lands for that opportunity. A better path will lead you there.

Bryan Cooper is co-owner of Sonoma Wine Shop and La Bodega in Sebastopol and Sonoma.

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