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Sonoma County Winery Working Group Public Hearing Nov 16


Sonoma County Winery Working Group Public Hearing Nov 16

Winery Working Group Public Workshop
Monday, November 16, 2015 at 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa

Currently, sales and promotional activities of agricultural products grown or processed in the County are allowed in agricultural zones with a use permit.

General Plan policies call for the development of regulations to further define compatible agricultural promotional activities including their permissible sizes and intensities. The General Plan also states that visitor-serving uses even if related to surrounding agricultural activities can be detrimental to the primary use of land for the production of food, fiber, and plant materials.

The goal of the General Plan policies is to preserve agricultural lands and maintain the rural character of the area while enhancing the economic viability of farms. The Board of Supervisors directed staff to develop regulations addressing agricultural promotional events and potential overconcentration.

The Director has invited a group of stakeholders to advise staff in the development of the regulations and guidelines for winery-related events and promotional activities. The Working Group is comprised of community volunteers, representatives from the wine industry, and neighborhood groups.

There is no public input at the Working Group meetings. However, information presented to the Working Group will be posted on this website and the public will have opportunity to comment on any policies or regulations that are proposed.

Public hearings will also be noticed and conducted before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

For the history of this Working Group and their findings - please visit their website at:

Winery Event Working Group Summary of Key Issues and Policy Options

Key issues include:

1) business need for event and promotional activities;

2) neighborhood compatibility concerns;

3) potential impacts related to noise, traffic, dust and water supplies;

4) potential commercialization of agricultural lands; and

5) maintaining rural character.

Several policy options have been identified that are summarized below.


Minimum Site Area:

A - No minimum site area requirements for events

B - Establish a minimum lot size of 7 acres for events.

C - Establish a minimum lot size of 10 acres for events consistent with Ag Preserve minimums

D - Establish a minimum lot size of 20 acres for events consistent with the minimum lot size for new parcels in Land Intensive Agriculture (LIA) zone

E - Require a minimum of 50% of a site be planted.



A. Establish a minimum setback of 1,000 feet for outdoor event areas involving amplified sound.

B. Establish a minimum setback of 625 feet for outdoor event areas involving acoustical music.

C. Establish a minimum setback of 450 feet for outdoor event areas with no outdoor music.

D. Allow reduction of setback where existing terrain or structures attenuate the noise without the use of sound walls.

E. No minimum setback requirements, establish on a case-by-case basis in the use permit process.

F. Limit all outdoor events to acoustic music only.


Tasting Room:

A. Limit of one on-site winery and tasting room per parcel.

B. Limit the number of tasting rooms to two per site.

C. Limit custom crush operations.

D. Allow tasting rooms only when accessory to a winery.

E. Allow tasting rooms only when there is a minimum 6 acres of vineyard on-site.

F. Establish a maximum site area devoted to tasting room and visitor serving uses to ensure the use is incidental.

G. Continue to allow stand-alone tasting rooms

H. Allow custom crush with tasting for each winery/brand in one tasting room as long as all wine is processed on-site.


Visitor Hours:

A. Establish operating hours on a case-by case basis through use permit

B. Limit events to tasting room hours only (10 am to 5pm)

C. Limit only outdoor events to tasting room hours

D. Limit events to the standard condition of 10 am to 9 pm with clean up by 10 pm.


Food Service:

A. Allow food and wine pairing during tasting room hours only.

B. Limit the number of seats or area where food service is provided.

C. Limit meals to permitted events only.

D. Limit facilities to a caterer’s kitchen with warming ovens but no stove top or hood.

E. Prohibit other commercial kitchen appliances such as deep fat fryers, pizza ovens, ice cream makers, etc.


Promotional Activities:

A. Define events by the number of persons based on parcel size

B. Limit the number of events for each size threshold.

C. Limit by type of event activity.

D. Distinguish between indoors versus outdoors activities.

E. Distinguish by whether fees are charged.

F. Distinguish by whether the event involves outdoor amplified sound.

G. Limit the number of industry-side event days by appellation.


Third party rentals:

A.  Prohibit rental of winery or tasting facilities to third parties.



A. Require access from public roads or within ½ mile of a publicly maintained road for event activities.

B. Require minimum pavement width of 18-feet for access roads.

C. Establish a required minimum one-half mile distance between driveways serving sites conducting promotional events in concentrated areas.



A. Require a parking plan for all event activities, including industry-wide to include:

B. A parking attendant to be present at all times during events

C. The use of dust control measures to keep dust generation to a minimum along access roads and to minimize the amount of dust leaving the site.

D. Signs placed before each event directing visitors to parking areas and overflow areas.

E. All event traffic queuing must be located on-site.


Monitoring and Enforcement:

A. Require an on-site coordinator to address complaints regarding noise, parking or trespass and notice to neighbors of the 24/7 contact person.

B. Require events to be calendared at the beginning of each year with an event coordinator, including industry-wide event permits.

C. Require annual reports on event activities from the preceding year including number of events, number of attendees and hours.

D. Establish an annual monitoring fee and conduct an audit of 15% of tasting room/event permits annually.

E. Establish a process to randomly select use permits for annual audits.

F. Employ code enforcement staff on evening and weekends



West Sonoma County Winery Event Centers


East Sonoma County Winery Event Centers


Agriculture is an important part of Sonoma County’s heritage. The wine industry contributes positive economic impacts of tourism, jobs and taxes to the community.

But we have reached a tipping point, where the zoning protections for rural, agricultural lands are increasingly being ignored in favor of expanding commercial winery/event center developments. Negative impacts include heavy traffic on narrow country roads, drawdown of water aquifers and impacts to the welfare of adjacent property owners.

There is a shortsighted approval process permitting commercial kitchens and on-going food service on agricultural lands.  The impacts of this uneven playing field can hurt other businesses, such as smaller wineries, and restaurants.  Once agricultural lands are dotted with urban-scale buildings and highly intensive uses, their rural character will be lost forever. 

Although landowners understand the need for profitable operations, rural residents believe more protective standards for implementing  development will prevent the irreparable loss of our shared resources and will support the stewardship of our agricultural lands for future generations. 

Jane Nielson