Placeholder Image Patio and landscape at Benziger Winery
photo credit: Jennifer Yin/Flickr

Sonoma County officials have approved a suite of winery event regulations, but only by a three to two vote.

Trade partners, food service, harvest parties...after untold hours of debate spread across meetings going all the way back to 2014, Sonoma County has new rules for winery events.

Susan Gorin, who represents Sonoma Valley, was one of two no votes on the ordinance. She said she feels the regulations don’t properly address the issue of winery over-concentration.

"We are going to be back to where we were years ago of neighborhood groups opposing every winery application," Gorin said. "And I think the actions that we've taken of eliminating definitions and muddling standards have made it even more difficult for community to wade into this issue."

The new ordinance only applies to brand new winery permit applications and to those existing ones seeking to change their permits, but leaves most of the county’s wineries relatively unaffected.

Fighting noise pollution and “preserving rural character” are two of the new regulations objectives.

Supervisor James Gore, who voted in favor of the new rules, sees them as adding guardrails to a situation which has not been hugely problematic.

"We don't have complaints that have been validated," Gore said. "We don't have traffic that has blown out, and so here we are once again talking about, quite honestly, a first world issue when in fact it's important for some people, but if you really want to protect everybody who lives in a rural area, we shouldn't allow McMansions to be built in Ag zones anymore."

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, another of the three ‘yes’ votes, said she sees the new rules as moving the needle.

"I think that it actually creates clarity and it sets standards in a positive way that will protect rural character going forward," Hopkins said.

A major definition born from the deliberations: consumer facing winery events are defined as taking place after hours and in excess of normal site capacity.

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