Tasting Rooms Threatening to Overtax Healdsburg and Sonoma
It is understandable that residents and lovers of the quaint towns of Healdsburg and Sonoma want to preserve
the cherished ambience and historic character that has defined these sleepy but charming farming villages.
The problem is that these towns rely on the wine industry and tourism for their very existence, and they are
logical locations for wine tasting rooms.
The issue has been debated for some time in both towns. In 2011, the Healdsburg City Council left intact an
informal guideline that allows one tasting room or bar per side of each downtown block and voted not to
impose new restrictions on tasting rooms in that city.
A recent article in The Press Democrat, “Sonoma identity crisis: too many tasting rooms?,” reported that
Preserving Sonoma is urging the Sonoma City Council to put a cap of 30 tasting rooms in the city of Sonoma.
The concern is that the city will become a monoculture of wine tasting locations and wine bars. A 2012 city
survey found 24 wine tasting facilities in the Sonoma Plaza area (Healdsburg, in contrast, had 20 tasting rooms
downtown then). Tasting rooms can open in Sonoma without a city use permit, and some have morphed into
wine bars, serving wine from several producers. New standards approved by Sonoma’s Planning Commission
on January 9, 2014, allowed tasting rooms smaller than 1,000-square feet to continue to operate without a use
permit while wine bars and tap rooms would need a city approval. This contentious issue is to be discussed
further by the Planning Commission and City Council in February.
I recently counted 40 tasting rooms within downtown Healdsburg, three of which offer wines from multiple
wineries making a total of 53 wineries. One could spend a week in Healdsburg and not visit even half of the
tasting rooms, many of which are owned by wineries specializing in Pinot Noir. Here is a current listing:
Blanchard Family Wines
C. Donatiello Winery
Davis Family Vineyards
Domaine St. George
Ferrari-Carano Seasons of the Vineyard
Front Street Wineries (Camellia Cellars, Holdredge Winery, J. Keverson, Kristie Vineyards, Pezzi King
Vineyards, Sapphire Hill Winery, Skewis Wines, Teira)
Hawley Winery Tasting Room & Gallery
Hudson Street Wineries (Bluenose Wines, Grove Street, Owl Ridge, Sadler-Wells, Rocking Z Vineyard)
JCB Tasting Room
Kendall-Jackson (Partake by K-J)
Manzanita Creek Winery
Ramey Wine Cellars
Russian River Wine Co.
Seghesio Family Vineyards
Stark Wine Company
Stephan & Walker
Toad Hollow Vineyards
Downtown Sonoma currently has 20 tasting rooms. There is more variety here, with fewer wineries focused on
Pinot Noir. Here is a listing:
Adobe Road Wines
Charles Creek Vineyard
Eric K. James
Hawkes Vineyards & Winery
Haywood Estate Winery
Highway 12 Vineyards & Winery
Kamen Estate Wines
R2 Wine Company
Roche Winery & Vineyards
My recommendation would be to seek out tasting rooms staffed by the winemaker or winery owner. Their
presence often makes for a more informative tasting experience and can lead to a long term allegiance to the
winery that is often enjoyable to the wine drinker.