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Meeting set for tasting room review

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The city has announced a joint study session between the City Council and Planning Commission in order to discuss Sonoma’s most contentious current issue: wine tasting rooms.

A date for the joint session was scheduled for Monday, Feb. 24, starting at 6 p.m. in the Sonoma Community Center, officials said Wednesday.

“This past year the Planning Commission and the City Council have been considering possible new regulations pertaining to wine tasting facilities,” city officials stated in a press release. “The Planning Commission recently concluded their analysis and consideration of possible regulations to be submitted to the City Council for consideration. The purpose of this study session will be to allow the Planning Commission to discuss their recommendations with the City Council and to provide a forum for public input on the subject.”

A political movement in Sonoma, led by former mayor Larry Barnett, holds that too many wine tasting rooms downtown will lead to reduced quality of life and, as Barnett has put it, “a monoculture of retail locations” around the Plaza.

But winemakers say most of those retail spaces were vacant prior to the tasting rooms’ arrival. They also say the tasting rooms have been a boon for other retail on the Plaza, and that they’re a lifeline for small local vintners trying to make it in a competitive business.

Approximately 30 wine tasting rooms currently ring the Plaza. The majority of them are operated by small vintners who say they use locally grown grapes and sell, at most, a few thousand cases of wine per year.

Last month, the Planning Commission approved a modest set of tasting room regulations to be sent to the City Council for approval. Those rules include limits on tasting room hours, square footage and promotional events. No limit was put on the total number of downtown tasting rooms. The regulations have not yet been ratified.

“Those recommendations aren’t going to be voted on as an ordinance at this study session,” said city Planning Director David Goodison. “It is just a study session.”

A follow-up to the Feb. 24 meeting – including a vote approving, rejecting or modifying the proposed tasting room regulations – will be determined by City Council members at a later date.

The Sonoma Community Center is located at 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Those wishing to find out more about the issue or the upcoming meeting can call Goodison at 938-3681.