Anti-Ag Sentiment Cannot Go Unanswered
By Steve Dutton, President
Published October 1, 2017
As I am sure most of you have read or heard, after four years winemaker and Sonoma County resident David Ramey’s proposed Westside Road winery was approved by the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) on a three to one vote. Although approved, the project is subject to appeal until October 2nd.
David has been making wine in Sonoma County from Sonoma County grapes for nearly 40 years. During the five and a half hour long BZA meeting, David was touted as one of Sonoma County’s “original pioneering icon winemakers, who helped put our county on the map.” John Balletto described him as a multigenerational Sonoma County grower and winemaker and said we are blessed that he and his family want to continue to make wine in Sonoma County from Sonoma County grapes.
My brother Joe and I have known and been doing business with David for many years, and I can personally speak to his integrity and passion for Sonoma County agriculture.
The 60,000-case winery on a 75-acre ranch is, in David’s words, “a real winery and not a wine salon or event center.” David and his wife Carla, daughter Claire and son Alan have also proposed preserving two hop kilns on Westside Road by converting them into a public tasting room and marketing space.
During the meeting, BZA board member Cam Mauritson said, “this is exactly the kind of project that I like to see more of. I don’t see a lot of negatives.” I think most of us in agriculture would agree with this.
James Gore, Fourth District Supervisor, was quoted saying, “the Westside Road area is zoned primarily land intensive agriculture and there’s only so much pure ag land in the county.”
If Westside Road is primarily zoned as ag land, then why and how did so many rural residential homes get approved in this area? These are the NIMBY neighbors that have been opposing this project and others along Westside Road.
People move here because of the open space and beautiful agriculture character, but then want to oppose any development that would support Sonoma County’s most valuable ag crop. This has become an ongoing issue in Sonoma County. And one that needs to be stopped.
It strikes me that this type of project is exactly what Sonoma County and the residents of Westside Road would want. It keeps this 75-acre former hop ranch in production agriculture and becomes a processing facility for other grapes grown in Sonoma County further keeping those properties in production ag. The 75-acre ranch is planted with 32 acres of Chardonnay and 10 acres of Pinot Noir grapes and directly supports land intensive agriculture. This project’s approval prevents this important ag land from being developed into a mega mansion or several homes. I personally would have a new winery as a neighbor any day over more homes.
So, what does this all mean? I am disappointed by the current support for agriculture in our county. The Ramey project exemplifies how important it is to continue to have a strong voice for agriculture. By getting 37 out of the 44 speakers to show up during a workday and positively support the proposed Westside Road project, David and his family won what will most likely just be the first of many rounds. It is a shame that a vocal minority who have chosen to live in our agriculturally zoned area of Sonoma County can distract, delay and sometimes even stop projects that are the very essence of Sonoma County’s history and economic future. This four-year permitting battle demonstrates just how critical it is that we all make the time to show up and lend a credible voice to supporting agriculture and ag promotion in Sonoma County. We are all busy, but friends and peers, the next time you receive an ask, please consider making the time. Agriculture is our livelihoods and the future for our families and Sonoma County.
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the author and Sonoma County Farm Bureau when reprinting this item.