The Sonoma City Council is currently considering the fate of nearly two-dozen tasting rooms and wine bars in the Plaza – and the prospect for approving any such future establishments.
In January, the city’s Planning Commission sent recommendations to the council on regulating these places. The recommendations included a limit on the hours of tasting rooms, taking into account that most in Sonoma close by 7 p.m. in the winter months and 9 p.m. in the summer months.
The commission also recommends putting a cap on promotional events at tasting rooms and limiting the space tasting rooms can use when occupying space within a larger business.
The city council is currently reviewing these recommendations and considering community concerns.
Preserving Sonoma, the group most widely known for its Measure B, hotel-limitation ballot initiative last fall, is also taking a stand to regulate tasting rooms on the Plaza. On its website, the group states, “The next issue facing Sonoma is the proliferation of wine bars.”
Larry Barnett, a member of Preserving Sonoma who is at the forefront of the movement to limit tasting rooms and wine bars, feels the city must also put a cap on how many tasting rooms are in the Plaza area, describing how a boom in tasting rooms has taken the rarity out of traveling to wineries.
“The introduction of the wine bar on Sonoma Plaza eliminates the need for a public winery.” This, Barnett explains, is not only degrading the wine industry, but also the very character of small-town Sonoma.
“Nearly 30 already dot the downtown, and more are coming unless some limitations are placed on the total number,” Preserving Sonoma’s website states. “With hundreds of wineries waiting in the wings, Sonoma Plaza might end up an open-air wine-aisle supermarket.”
The city identifies 23 wine tasting rooms within its “Plaza retail overlay zone,” with 20 of them purely for wine tasting and three others a mix of wine tasting and retail.
These tasting rooms and wine bars, according to the city, make up 17 percent of the business space in the Plaza retail area.
Those in favor of regulating tasting rooms and wine bars have also raised concerns that an increase in alcohol-serving establishments on the Plaza would lead to more crime – particularly more DUIs – in the area.
Sonoma’s laws surrounding drinking allow adults of legal drinking age to consume alcohol in public places between 11:30 a.m. and sunset, meaning people can drink wine, or tequila or beer at Depot Park, the Plaza park, and even on a city sidewalk, according to Sonoma Police Chief Bret Sackett, in reference to Chapter 9.36 of city code.
Sackett, who says his first priority in looking at tasting rooms and wine bars is making sure any regulation positively impacts public safety, says DUIs should not be the factor to determine the effects of alcohol consumption on public safety.
Last year, his department recorded 72 DUIs in Sonoma. In 2012, there were 70, he said. “I do know our DUIs are up a little bit, but not substantially. I do know our crime rate is up this year, considerably,” Sackett said at the Monday night meeting focusing on tasting rooms.