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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sonoma County, be careful what you ask for (part 2)

Sonoma County's wine business and its related tourism is now two-thirds of the county's $20 billion economy. This growth brings problems.

In yesterday's blog post I talked about the issues in Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Here we cover the most popular wine towns in Sonoma and what the future may hold.

Healdsburg and Sonoma

Sonoma County has a couple cute, and popular, "wine towns." The town of Sonoma has long been favored not only for its "cuteness," but its history, proximity to the Bay Area and numerous wineries. In the last several years Healdsburg went from a local farm town to rated as one of the best small towns to visit. Both are very crowded on weekends from spring to fall. Some locals aren't so happy.

The Sonoma Plaza, lined with restaurants, tasting rooms, and small shops
Image from

There seems to be more noise coming from the town of Sonoma, maybe because they've been dealing with the crowds for much longer. The number of winery tasting rooms and restaurants around the town square has increased substantially in the last few years. There are probably two dozen tasting rooms within easy walking distance of each other. How many is too many?

A group of Sonoma residents has tried to limit tasting rooms and hotel development in their town. So far they've been unsuccessful.

I haven't seen a lot of backlash on congestion in Healdsburg and the town continues to add tourism-related businesses. You do see turnover in restaurants and tasting rooms showing that the area is probably saturated, but there's always someone else who will come in and give it a go.

Parking is tough in Healdsburg on weekends. Recently someone came up with a half-assed scheme to let locals park downtown for free while charging the tourists. I hope they are smart enough to find another solution.

What's next for Sonoma County?

Disclaimer: If it was easy to predict the future we'd all be rich off the stock market and sports betting.

The days of rubber stamping most winery growth in rural areas may be over. The small towns, like Healdsburg and Sonoma, seem less concerned about growth control as they'll take the income and taxes generated. Will they become a victim of their own success? That is, will the crowds drive some visitors away? Some of Sonoma County's visitors say they are here because they don't like the crowds and prices in Napa. Not that Napa is hurting -- they're doing just fine.

Recently Sonoma Valley, including the town of Sonoma, got listed as the most expensive place for lodging in the country. Supply-and-demand at work so some will say we need lots more hotel rooms.

It's obvious to anyone paying attention we are reaching a saturation point in the minds of residents. Business owners need to remain on friendly terms with the locals. 

Right now the hotels, restaurants, and winery tasting rooms are enjoying good times in both Sonoma and Napa.

In the news

A couple recent articles:
Winery expansion backlash
How many are too many?