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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sonoma County's Rural Rebellion

Business is booming in the wine county. The number of visitors is up. Along with that the traffic and the noise levels are up. Some people in the rural areas of Napa and Sonoma are saying "enough."

A few months ago Food Network star Gary Fieri's plans for a rural party palace, I mean winery, were shot down by the county.

Now it's taken a more generic turn with county-wide forums debating the issue. There is a push for more regulation of new wineries.

Narrow, winding, West Dry Creek Road
image from

The first meeting was in Santa Rosa on November 16th. As expected, there were two sides that are miles apart. Yeah, sounds like Congress.

Representing the "no more growth" side with comments like:

"We don't need more wineries." That will never happen. Well, okay, I shouldn't say never.

"We don't have enough water." Well, apparently we do, so far.

 "Stop the Napafication of Sonoma County." Hell yes. For anyone that's visited Napa Valley can you imagine living with that traffic in your own neighborhood?

Representing the wine business were comments such as:

"Sure there may be the occasional problem, but wineries, tasting rooms, and events are the life blood of the county." Out-of-control events, really? Most people will buy into wineries and tasting rooms with daytime hours. It's the special events that are the problem and you all are well aware of that.

"We don't need more regulations." I sympathize with having even more red tape than you do already, but if the current regulations were working we wouldn't have a problem.

"By selling direct-to-consumer (meaning tasting rooms) we're preventing development in rural areas." But you are the development in rural areas.

"Wineries are driving the county's economic recovery." That is a fact.

The Reality

There are currently 439 wineries in Sonoma County and 60 more coming. Of the ones currently operating 137 host events and there is your problem. Too much traffic on roads not designed to handle it, no where to park once you get to the event, and loud noises into the night from these events.

There are places in the county that can handle special events and there are parts of the county not designed for this. It seems pretty obvious to me, but emotions are still running high on both sides. Common sense still has a chance to win out.

To the wine industry: Compromise now before the Rural Rebellion gets bigger.
To the complainers: We're not going back to dairy and apples. Our economy depends on wine.

Article from the Press Democrat