Sebastopol City Council urges denial of large proposed winery off Highway 12

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The Sebastopol City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to urge Sonoma County officials to deny approval for a large-scale winery and distillery being proposed on former dairyland off Highway 12 about 2 miles east of town.

The application for the proposed Dairyman Winery and Distillery is still months away from formal consideration by county planning bodies, but the plan already is generating opposition among conservationists and Sebastopol-area residents concerned about potential impacts on wildlife, traffic, water supply and the area’s status as a community separator. Many feel the project is more industrial than agricultural; the property is zoned for farming.

Among the issues is the project’s location in the middle of protected habitat for the California tiger salamander, which is federally listed as an endangered species. There also are seasonal wetland areas on the site associated with Gravenstein Creek, which runs through the property and is a tributary to the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

Opponents also fear gridlock on an already congested two-lane stretch of Highway 12, given estimates for event attendance at the winery and trucking of up to 1,000 tons of grapes per year to the site, some of which would be held in cold storage for later processing.

There are about 40 acres of vineyards on the property that would stay in production, said Napa Valley vintner Joe Wagner, who owns the 68-acre property and is proposing the project.

Wagner, whose Belle Glos winery is among several labels owned by his family — the same clan behind Caymus Vineyards — envisions a full-scale winemaking and bottling operation large enough to eventually make 500,000 cases of wine a year, as well as 250,000 gallons of distilled spirits.

The project has been designed for construction only on the part of the property that already has been disturbed by prior dairy and other industrial operations, including storage, sale and distribution of gypsum. Wagner has called the venture an opportunity to showcase local agricultural products and replace dilapidated buildings.

“It’s a very sensitive area, and we know that we’re asking a lot, and we know that we’re going to be held to what we put out there,” he said in an interview Monday. “… But I think it’s going to be a very compelling story for consumers coming in and learning about the historic components of Sonoma County.”

Wagner had little opportunity to state his case in advance of Tuesday’s crowded City Council meeting, at which officials voted 5-0 to urge outright denial of a county use permit for the winery/distillery, based on a host of concerns.

The council also is going to ask the county to get an accurate accounting of the amount of water needed to produce wine and spirits, and is urging a countywide moratorium on comparably sized production facilities.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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