By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Tasting rooms and wine bars in Sonoma will soon operate under a new set of rules approved by the City Council.
But no cap has been set on the number of such businesses in the city, a proposal that industry representatives had fought against.
“The council sent a clear message that they weren’t prepared to get in the business of stating a limit on the number of tasting rooms,” said Richard Idell, a board member with the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance.
“That’s fundamentally a good result for everybody because I don’t think the council should be in that business and I think the marketplace should dictate that number,” he said.
The new regulations define operating hours, the number of public events each business can hold a year, and in which cases use permits are required.
They are far less restrictive than what some had called for.
Proponents of tougher regulations, including Councilman Steve Barbose, had argued that an excess of tasting rooms could turn Sonoma into a one-note town friendlier to tourists than residents. They had wanted tasting rooms and wine bars to apply for use permits, even in The Plaza, as well as a cap on their numbers.
Wine industry representatives supported the rules tentatively approved Monday by the council on a 4-0 vote (Barbose was absent).
“By and large the industry in Sonoma Valley sees this as a good result,” said Idell, who owns Idell Family Vineyards, which does not have a tasting room.
The ordinance would limit tasting rooms and wine bars — which can pour drinks from different wineries and breweries — to 26 invitation-only special events a year and restrict them to indoors.
It would also limit public hours of operation from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Because the new regulations would apply to businesses already in operation, not only to those opening in the future, some legal questions arise about fairness and existing leases, said Idell, an attorney.
But, he said, “I don’t think you’ll see a challenge” because the practical effects of those restrictions will be minimal.
The new ordinance, which the city still must formally adopt, would also require wine bars, of which there are three in the city, to get a use permit in order to open.
Also winery tasting rooms — there are now 20, most near or on The Plaza — would need a use permit in areas outside commercial zones, such as the city’s iconic plaza.
No one spoke against the new rules at Monday’s council meeting.