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News: 04/01/2016

Advisory commission OKs Beltane winery expansion

Some concerns over traffic and events

One of the oldest continuing grape growing operations in the Sonoma Valley is seeking a formal use permit to make up to 15,000 cases a year from vines tended on the 105-acre Beltane Ranch. Owner Alexa Wood is also seeking the county’s blessing to host up to 20 agriculture-related events every year and to install a tasting room in the existing barn.

Grapes were first planted on the land in 1879, and the property was acquired in 1892 by Mary Ellen Pleasant, who designed and built the mansion that now serves as a bed and breakfast. The barn was probably built in 1900.

Alexa Wood owns and operates Beltane Ranch today. Her mother, Rosemary Wood, was raised on the property, and Alexa’s children, Alex Benward and Lauren Krause are in line to take over. Lauren is already working with her mother operating the ranch and B&B.

“I support family farms,” Commissioner Bruce Green said. “We’ve lost enough to large corporations. It’s important to have family wineries in Sonoma Valley.”

The Commission voted unanimously to support the application.

Creating a 300-square-foot tasting room will call for extensive renovations to the barn, including ADA approved rest rooms, but the family intends to keep the old barn looking the same from the outside. Tastings will be by appointment only, with a maximum of 12 people expected on any given day, though the operation will be open seven days a week.

The proposed project was presented to and discussed by the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission (SVCAC) on March 23 in the Sonoma Police Station’s Community Room, with no neighbors or other parties coming to object or support the expansion.

North Valley commissioners Margaret Spaulding and Gini Dunlap were concerned about the condition of Nuns Canyon Road where traffic will be diverted for access to the tasting room. Project engineer Merrill van Fleet noted a recent change in the traffic routing to bring people into the ranch through the closest entrance off Nuns Canyon Road, and not through a more distant gate up Nelligan Road.

Beltane Ranch currently produces 1,100 cases a year off site, but will undertake on-site production in new facilities also to be added within the current barn.

While Beltane has hosted and will continue to host weddings, those are carried out under a non-conforming use permit that goes with the six-bedroom bed and breakfast.

“There are no restrictions on that non-conforming use,” van Fleet said, when asked about the total number of events expected to be held on the property.

Sonoma County Planning Commissioner Gregg Carr, an ex-officio member of the SVCAC, said the that county will likely have the owner establish a baseline for the existing weddings and other B&B events held before setting any event limits on the winery operations.

Most of the proposed events are educational in nature, with a few focused on new wine releases.


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