Wine & Water Watch letter on winery events (public record)

May 28, 2021

To: Permit Sonoma & Planning Commissioners

Greg Carr   –
Jaquelynne Ocana   –
Pam Davis   –
Todd Tamura   –
Kevin Deas   – 

RE: Winery Event Ordinance

Wine and Water Watch is a local organization of over 300 citizens concerned with the overdevelopment of the wine tourism industry. We promote ethical land and water use. We oppose the industrialization of agricultural lands not growing food, medicine, fiber or sileage especially when dwindling resources and climate change is making large impacts to our lives.

We continue to believe strict regulations on events both size, number, definition and timing with high traffic events should be created. The fact is the County already has such a policy and it ​should be included in the ordinance. Weddings, parties, and business meetings are not agriculture promotions but rather corporate event productions and not ag. Up to date traffic studies, no more than 2 years old, need to be created to map out potential problems due to binge tourism. We are tired of “right turn only” season that this inflated industry creates is both a safety issue and a quality-of-life issue.

Winery event expansion is nothing more than tourism promotion. More tourism via winery events is not an economic cure all. The recent Economic Development Plan, pre-pandemic clearly shows that tourism is not much of a vital  an economic generator (6.5% according to the 2021 Economic outlook report by Robert Eyler).  

Tourism should be supportive to local communities and not dislocate the local population with traditionally low wages, unaffordable housing due to investors, sacrificing our local mom-and-pop businesses that service resident needs and require more taxes to fix the overburdened infrastructure.  No more wine industry expansion. We urge the planners to take this into consideration when viewing the regulations.

Loopholes must be closed to stop this barely controlled expansion which creates more traffic, noise, drunk drivers and more low wage jobs that make homelessness and inequality even more extreme . With expanded events comes more homes being lost to vacation rentals. There is a reason Sonoma County is number 3 in homelessness in the entire country. Regulation of this bloated industry is geared towards corporate interests that come to this county for resources and profit that leave the county. We all supported small family run wineries which are now struggling to compete with large national corporations.


We suggest that if the wine industry needs more events to survive that as a community, they work together to build a large center that can cater to all wineries and events and has the infrastructure to support the added pressure to our community. The wine industry should be paying for this not more tax increases and aggravation born by residents. Luther Burbank Center type of property close to a major thoroughfare should be the goal not scattered winery events all over the county. This is being done by Central California communities and working successfully as they are located in areas where local businesses can thrive instead of just the wine industry.   

Agriculture in this county has had plenty of changes over the years. From potatoes, to hops, prunes, peaches, apples, poultry, pears, hay, dairy, cattle and sheep. Dairy and cattle remain as do some poultry business but pared down into a realistic size industry. With diminished sales, wine grape glut and lowered worldwide demand, changing tastes and new online marketing, time for this industry to adjust or die. Those eras did not have the same issues we face today: climate change impacts that may cause our own extinction, scarce water, changing cultural tastes, unaffordable land, social inequality to name a few

A serious discussion and studies need to be made on the ever-expanding wine industry impacts that are adding considerable amounts of GHG worsening climate change in search of customers, depleting our aquifers and the onslaught of chemical based ag further polluting the water we have. We have paid the price for their endless assaults on our environment. Time for them to make the changes that benefit the community as we all have already sacrificed way too much for their pursuit of profit.

All events must be closed by 5pm, no tasting on disconnected parcels, roadways must be legal (18 feet), no events within a half mile and recent traffic studies to truly see the impacts.

A full Cumulative Impact Report should be made before any changes to the winery event regulations and climate change must be addressed. Added events equals more greenhouse gases by additional vehicle miles traveled is yet to even be broached. The cannabis industry will get a cumulative impact report, why not this industry? As we all suffer through the megadrought, where is the extra water coming from to flush toilets, clean glasses and cater to out of towners? Ag already uses 80% of our shared water resources. More lost “ag” lands to create additional parking lots and visitor centers, is not ag.

We urge the commissioners to close the loopholes and protect the people who actually live here.  Our organization looks  forward to action on this matter that reflects the public not what the wine industry wants. We need strict rules so everyone knows what is expected. Thank you for your consideration.


Wine & Water Watch Board