Booze industry on steriods

You think traffic is already gridlocked in this area? You haven’t seen anything yet! With Tennis Wick (Sonoma county head Permit Sonoma) already admitting the county is letting the wineries write their own event/tasting room ordinance (Northbay Biz Journal), neighborhoods are just collateral damage to our supervisors.

Hey supervisors have you ever tried to get through Hwy 116 and Occidental Road? It’s normal to have 30 or more cars stacked up at the light. Why were current traffic studies (10 years old) not done? Parking in Graton? Cows in Berkeley?

On Tap: A brewery in Graton and a winery near Sebastopol

A resurrected Sebastopol winery and tasting room and a new Graton brewery and beer garden are among applications now on the drawing boards at the Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department.

The former Best Family Winery project, a controversial idea approved several years ago near the corner of Occidental Road and Highway 116, has been taken over by Walt Wines, the renowned pinot noir and chardonnay producer based in Sonoma.

Walt is in the process of getting final redesign review for the previously approved 30,000 square-foot winery and tasting room building on 7.6 acres where the Best Family project was first proposed 10 years ago. The project still comprises a winery with a maximum annual production of 26,500 cases and a public tasting room open seven days a week for retail sales and tours.

The vested permit allows a dozen annual marketing dinners or lunches with a maximum of 40 guests per event plus participation in four industry-wide promotional events with up to 150 guests, according to the Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department (now called Permit Sonoma).

The Walt redesign “maintains the butterfly garden, roof mounted solar panels, water conservation measures and oak trees,” said the project proposal reviewed last month at PRMD. The redesign still needs a final county design review approval, said Permit Sonoma spokeswoman Chelsea Holup.

Since taking over the project, Walt Wines representatives have met with neighbors including the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Land Use who filed a lawsuit eight years ago over the environmental impacts of the former Best Family Winery project. The suit was settled with an agreement that limits total annual wine production, lowers building heights and increases the number of new trees to be planted to screen the site from neighbors and the traveling public on Highway 116, a designated scenic highway.

The Walt project goes beyond those agreements in mitigating environmental impacts, said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins’s District Director Susan Upchurch. The new project is expected to break ground this summer, said Upchurch.

“It’s very beautiful,” said Upchurch.

Meanwhile, down the road in Graton, a proposed expansion by Purple Wine + Spirits at the corner of Graton Road and Bowen Avenue would add a taproom and beer garden that would convert approximately 7,000 square feet of Purple Wine’s existing office space into a brewery and beer garden open to the public, directly across the street from an entrance to the West County Trail.

Graton neighbors are expected to raise environmental issues regarding increased traffic and noise along Bowen Avenue as well as potential environmental impacts to Atascadero Creek wetlands that runs along the west side of the property.

The project is now in “the very early stages” of applying for a use permit and no public hearing is yet scheduled before county Planning Commissioners, said Upchurch.

Purple Wine’s proposed taproom and beer garden, called “Knuckle Junction,” would relocate 47 administrative employees to Santa Rosa, reducing the total number of employees on the Graton site to 74 full-time workers, according to the Purple’s application to PRMD. The taproom and beer garden are expected to serve an average of 50 to 60 customers at a time during peak hours, according to the Purple Wine application. Special events with live music and amplified sound are also part of the proposal.

Founded by Derek Benham in 2001, Purple Wine + Spirits produces branded wines “as well as custom and private label wines for major U.S. and International retailers and restaurateurs,” says the company’s website.

According to the website, the Graton-based enterprise has satellite wineries in American Canyon and the Russian River Valley, with sustainability, water and energy conservation key principles guiding product development.

In 2014, Benham broke ground on a new distillery in Graton called Graton Distilling Company that produces small lot, artisanal spirits. The company portfolio includes brands such as Avalon, Raeburn, Four Vines, Lucky Star, Cryptic, Flint & Steel and Calista.