Ramey wants to convert former hop kiln to tasting room
Whether the rural splendor of Westside Road can withstand its evolution into a high-end wine tasting mecca will be one question in the air at a public hearing coming up in two weeks.
The Sept. 21 county Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) hearing will address renowned winemaker David Ramey’s ambitious plans for a winery with multiple tasting rooms, guest housing, commercial office space and picnic grounds to accommodate more than two dozen annual promotional parties, some with up to 300 guests.
Ramey’s project has drawn outcry from opponents who say it’s simply too much even for Westside Road, one of the most visitor-centric destinations in wine country.
“This is the most intense project every proposed for Westside Road,” read a letter from the Westside Community Association regarding the Ramey project on 75 acres known as Westside Farms, where a weathered hop kiln building is a designated county historic site.
Besides a new winery and wine cave, The Ramey project includes a tasting room in the old hop kiln building and another private tasting room in the adjacent barn, along with overnight marketing accommodations and parking for approximately 80 cars.
Opponents say the project is out of scale with other recent winery permit approvals on Westside Road where the clash between residential neighbors and the impacts of wine tasting and special events has been escalating since direct-to-customer sales became the local wine industry’s preferred marketing strategy.
“My biggest concern is the size and scope of it,” said Westside Road resident Nancy Citro. “You want it to fit in with what’s there.”
The former Westside Farms site was owned by Ron and Pam Kaiser, who grew pumpkins and ran a seasonal farm store. The neglected hop barns recall the site’s agricultural history dating to the 19th century when Westside Road was more about fruit orchards and hops than limousines, lawn parties and chardonnay.
“Westside Road embodies Healdsburg’s rich agricultural heritage, with scenic vistas and historic structures which provide continuity with our past and enhance our quality of life,” said a Westside Community Association letter opposing Ramey’s plans. “The project is simply too large and commercially oriented for a rural area such as Westside Road.”
The county Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) will review the project and take public comment at the Sept. 21 public hearing before making a recommendation to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. The property, on three parcels located on both sides of Westside Road, is in both the Fourth and Fifth supervisorial districts.
Ramey is asking for a use permit for a 23,000 square-foot winery with a 60,000 case annual production, a 20,000 square-foot wine cave, conversion of the hop kiln building to a public tasting room open seven days a week and conversion of the hop bailing barn to a private tasting room with guest accommodations on the second floor.
Ramey, whose permit application has been in the works for three years, has completed a biological habitat assessment, historic resource evaluation, cultural resource evaluation, noise assessment and traffic impact studies as required by the county Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD).
Although the PRMD, now called Permit Sonoma, is recommending approval, the BZA has recommended against other recent visitor-intensive winery projects, most recently the proposed Leslie Rudd winery on Westside Road. BZA members liked Rudd’s architectural plans but agreed with critics that the concentration of tasting rooms and special event traffic made the project incompatible with its Westside Road neighborhood.
The much larger Ramey winery project will face the same scrutiny in two weeks.