Tasting room trauma?



We know an eight-year-old who is subject to a variety of fears, some of them realistic, others irrational, but all nonetheless real.

Her parents, as most parents would, try to address the rational fears with calm facts, reassurance and appropriate words of caution.

The irrational fears, involving inchoate suspicions of creatures under the bed or monsters in the closet, are harder to resolve and sometimes must simply be outgrown.

But those fears, too, must be addressed, because to ignore them, some experts would say, is to drive them deeper into the subconscious where they fester into nightmares, further from understanding and resolution.

Pardon, if you will, this clumsy attempt at child psychology, but it comes to mind in the wake of Monday night’s joint study session, conducted by the City Council and the Sonoma Planning Commission, on the topic of tasting rooms.

On the table was the question of what steps, if any, should be taken to limit or regulate the proliferation of wine tasting rooms on the Plaza. Implicit in that issue is the further question of whether or not tasting rooms are a problem, a threat to the integrity and quality of life enjoyed on and around our city’s most sacred ground, in short, a cultural bogeyman hiding in the community’s closet.

As with some childhood fears, community concerns about the impacts of increased wine tasting and tourism, at least as expressed in the Monday night study session, strike us as a mix of the real and the imagined. Among the fears we heard expressed were these:

Tasting rooms are driving up Plaza rents and pushing out small businesses.

Tasting rooms magnify the negative impacts of tourism, filling Plaza parking spaces and clogging the sidewalks. A fourth-generation Sonoman complained that Mary’s Pizza was overcrowded on a weekday “even in winter.”

Too many tasting rooms violate the historic quality of the Plaza and will, in time, turn Sonoma’s wine cachet into an overexposed cliché.

The Plaza is a park, not a tasting room, but on weekends, said one resident, it’s nothing but “chaos.”

The issue of Plaza rents may be the most frightening, certainly for Plaza business owners, but so far no one has produced hard evidence that tasting rooms, many of which are too small for all but the tiniest shops, are the cause of rent spikes.

On the other hand, there is a strong argument that, without tasting rooms, Plaza vacancies would mushroom.

There is also, according to police, no evidence that tasting rooms contribute to increases in drunken behavior or the risks of drunken driving. How much impact tasting rooms have on Plaza parking space remains an open question, but a packed Plaza is presumably what local businesses pray for, and tasting room visitors buy more than wine.

Shake the Sonoma snow globe and when the flakes settle some people see chaos and some people see commerce, some people see trauma from teeming hordes of tourists and others see waves of happy visitors eager to experience our historic town and to spend their money here.

Where does this leave us? It’s too soon to tell, but we’re confident that in the weeks ahead the City Council, the Planning Commission and our exceptionally capable city staff will find the right formula to address real issues wisely and, hopefully, to assuage our less rational fears.

  • Fred Allebach

    One thing I’ve learned from the post Measure B wine tasting segue is to not trust in the impartiality of the author to parse local tourist and economic issues fairly. Sarcastic, snarky, one-sided commentary and reporting, covert biases, belittling sustainability issues known world-wide is what we get. The author, otherwise smart and apparently in tune to Bay Area
    prevailing thought, does not seem interested in getting to the heart of the issue of what tourism does for a community.

    The Sonoma Valley Groundwater Management Program is a good example of how to engage stakeholder issues without disrespectful overtones. These people set a good example: sustainability is integral and has multiple bottom lines. A stakeholder is anyone who has an interest and comes to the community table. When interests are different, bridging the gap starts with honor, respect and the desire to understand.

    You can see behind the scenes in the article here and in the last year: a covert conversation with Larry, of mythology, unseen hands and monsters under the bed. Whatever kind of therapist you go to or what ideology you buy, mass tourism issues are quite real. These are values issues where symbols matter. They are also quantifiable issues, if anyone would care to investigate outside the dominant local paradigm. In the I-T, waters of this issue seem to be intentionally muddied so as to stoke dissent whereas a different intent could easily work towards consilience and understanding.

  • The Village Idiot

    This OpEd is not a clumsy attempt at child psychology. It is an amateurish and transparent attempt to belittle as uniformed and child-like any who might have a legitimate concern that economic developments in the little town of Sonoma might have a killing and chilling impact on the town itself. That’s not only condescending but easy to do when the author lives in Glen Ellen and can go home each day (if he ever actually leaves it to go to work) to the quiet and pleasant comfort of a (very) small town in little or no danger of being over-run by greed. Those who actually live in the city of Sonoma are smarter than he gives us credit for. We learned at an early age not to take candy, or bull***t, from strangers.

  • Josette Brose-Eichar

    The words used by Mr. Allenbach, “sarcastic and snarky” were the exact words I was searching for after attending the city council/ planning commission meeting on Monday night. Several speakers supporting that there be no additional regulations on tasting rooms and a few people sitting behind the table up in front were sarcastic and snarky. The contempt for anyone raising issues about the quality of life in Sonoma or supporting a slow growth policy, came across loud and clear. Sadly this tactic seems to work. If you belittle those raising these issues as immature and childlike you can make these issues seem small and unimportant in the eyes of the voters, when slow growth issues or candidates supporting them are on the ballot. I wish my observation were not true, but I do think it is.

  • David Eichar

    Mr. Bolling says there is “according to police, no evidence that tasting rooms contribute to increases in drunken behavior or the risks of drunken driving.” In the joint meeting of the city council and planning commission, the Sonoma police chief said, “Logic would dictate that the more opportunities there is for consumption of alcohol, the bigger the propensity there is for problems. Whether our current alcohol related crimes have increased based upon additional wine serving or alcohol serving facilities, I haven’t looked at the numbers.” He goes on to say DUIs and crime rate is up in Sonoma. So, while there may no evidence that these increases are a result of the tasting rooms, there also is no evidence that these increases are NOT the result of the tasting rooms. Mr. Bolling, why did you word the statement in such a way to lead to the wrong impression by the readers?

  • Robert Piazza

    Not having a position for or against tasting rooms, I find Bolling’s OpEd quite balanced. He simply laid out some of the pro’s and con’s.
    As for the wine rooms direct effects on drunken behavior or driving, the chief said he didn’t know as he hadn’t looked at the statistics. How that translates to Bolling leading the reader to the wrong impression, I fail to see!