Summary of Winery Event Ordinance & Impacts for Community

Recap of Winery Event Ordinance – Supervisor’s Vote 3-2 “Usual Suspects” (Supervisor Hopkins, Gore & Rabbitt vote for wine industry interests, again).

On March 14, 2023, the Board of Supervisors adopted the Winery Event Ordinance by a 3-2 vote.

After approximately 10 years of debate, workshops, stakeholder groups and hearings, the approved Winery Event Ordinance was disappointing for residents and community groups who advocated for preserving rural character. At the November, 2022 Board meeting, the Supervisors rejected the Planning Commissions’ draft ordinance – developed over the course of several hearings. The Commissions’ draft had community support but was opposed by the wine industry. 


Permit Sonoma re-drafted the Ordinance, reinserting portions of the 2014 Wine Industry Position paper. The three approving Board members – Hopkins, Gore, and Rabbitt – sided with the industry’s position to allow more entertainment and hospitality uses on Ag lands. They rejected community requests for an enforceable Ordinance via meaningful definitions and standards, important limits and siting criteria. Gorin and Coursey advocated for changes that would close these loopholes; then, voted against an ordinance that intensifies the impacts from hospitality uses. 

New Unlimited Event Type: Expanded hospitality uses include a new class of events – “trade marketing” events with meal service, held up to 10 pm. There are no limits on the number of such events and size is only limited by the carrying capacity of the site. Historically, Use Permits specified the total number and size of permitted events, particularly the number held after tasting room hours. These limits are necessary to minimize noise impacts and road safety concerns given late evening drinking and partying on lightly patrolled rural roads.

Excluding such events from the number of Ag Promotional events a winery is entitled to host (on average about 20 events) opens the door for virtually unregulated entertainment uses – the wine trade event with a meal until 10 pm loophole creates entitlements in Use Permits for events every evening of the year. Furthermore, with no way to verify whether those attending these gatherings are within the loosely defined “trade,” abuse will be likely. Employees are considered part of the trade so a plain reading means that any gathering could be considered a trade event. 

No Siting Criteria: The three Board members also refused to consider siting criteria such as the 20-acre minimum parcel size, and a density standard to prevent new areas of over-concentration. They also removed other standards recommended by the Planning Commission, such as the obligation to notify neighbors of events, and removing the minimum road width standards.

Entitlements for Food Service with Permit Modification: Despite the fact that the General Plan prohibits new or intensified use of restaurants in Ag zones (Ag Element AR- 6b), the Ordinance expanded the definition of a winery to include commercial kitchens, and upheld the definition of a tasting room as a “retail food facility”. The three Supervisors also omitted any limitations on the portion size or number of courses allowed for food and wine pairing, with the only limit being contradictory – tasing rooms cannot serve “cooked to order” food. In essence, wineries can offer tasting menus, evening meals and other services that clearly compete with restaurants.

No CEQA Review Proposed: There has been no CEQA review of cumulative impacts, especially those associated with increased visitation given entitlements to food service and hospitality uses in Ag areas. The County assumes CEQA review and site-specific environmental issues will be handled in the Use Permit process; however, absent specification of the daily visitation and total number of events by size, these case-by-case reviews will not meet State CEQA standards.

Monitoring – Enforcement via Complaints – Process requires Sign In on SoCo Connect > Request:

The Ordinance applies to New Applications and existing wineries/tasting rooms that want to expand their rights to food service or hold wine trade events. Given enforcement relies on neighbor complaints, community groups need to be vigilant in reporting hospitality uses that are not specified in a facility’s current Use Permit. See Link above for steps to register a request for investigation of violation. To be compliant, an application for modification of an existing Use Permit is required: County Counsel clarified that all uses must be specified; there’s no such thing as “silent permits” or “grandfathered rights.”

The ordinance will go into effect in 30 days unless legal action is taken.