Wine and The Power of One…To Obstruct



Representative local government is where things get done that most effect our daily lives. And yet, few MSmap
of us can name the Mayor, the County Supervisors or the city counsel representatives that we elect to care for our community. Here in Sonoma Wine Country a great number of the wineries are governed by the County, rather than by the town or city.

And while local lawmakers here tend to very sensitive to the importance of wine to the economy and lifestyle and while they tend to make good decisions concerning the operating procedures of wineries, the wheels of government and the seeds of economic prosperity can often be slowed by the act of one private party who has a bug up their ass that has no business residing there.

Take the case of Michel-Schlumberger, a winery that sits in one of the most remote and beautiful areas of Dry Creek Valley. They have long been on the outskirts of Healdsburg where they opened their remarkable facility by appointment only. They petitioned the Board of Supervisors of Sonoma County to open their tasting room on a regular basis, an act that is likely to increase the value of their property, butMsphoto
in the end draw not too many additional visitors to their tasting room.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, looking at Michel-Schlumberger's petition to open their gates full time, granted the appropriate permit late last year. All was well.

Until, a non-resident, property owner who does not live in the area and does not even have a house on the property appealed the Board's decision, apparently because they think they might want to live there one day and they fear the traffic. And the process to open the tasting room at Michel-Sclumberger was put on hold. Done. That's it. Stop the presses. Don't proceed.

Now, while this episode demonstrates the "power of one", it also demonstrates how pure NIMBYism is able to stop economic development in its tracks. I can understand stopping the process if there was something of an outcry, if there were numerous neighbors who said, "Stop!".

Well, Michel-Schlumberger gets its day before the Board of Supervisors (AGAIN–remember it was already approved by the Board) on February 10 in Santa Rosa at 3 PM at 575 Administration Dr., Room 102A. The Board will hear the appeal, will hear the response and will hear public comments—AGAIN.

I get frustrated with this sort of careless, self-absorbed, power of one form of governing. I for one and going to try to be there not only to stand up for Michel-Schlumberger, but to let the Board of Supervisors know that the power of one to stop and retard economic activity needs to be better controlled.

Do you live in Sonoma County? Do you feel the same way? If so, send a quick letter to the Board of Supervisors:

First District
Valerie Brown
[email protected]

Second District
Mike Kerns
[email protected]

Third District
Shirlee Zane
[email protected]

Fourth District
Paul L. Kelley
[email protected]

Fifth District
Efren Carrillo
[email protected]

Better yet, attend the Board meeting. Stand up and say I support Michel-Schlumberger. Stand up and say I support a rational approach to addressing Land Use and regulatory matters that does not put all the power to determine progress in one absentee landlord's hands.


11 Responses

  1. Lia Huber - February 3, 2009

    Ironically, I was part of a scenario that was exactly the OPPOSITE of this one here a few years ago. Someone from out of town, who does not live here on a full time basis, bought property across from a friend of mine–on one of the tiny country roads off West Dry Creek–and got permits for a “boat house” and a “pool house,” which he received. A few months later, he built the structures, which turned out–low and behold–to be a winery and a tasting room.
    Now, one would think that the board would scoff at such blatant nose-thumbing of the rules. Especially when nearly a hundred residents, many well-respected members of the community, were up in arms over the situation. Especially when those residents have taken to time to pull together reports and come, en masse, to the hearing (the room in your photo was standing room only that day).
    But no. The man who had broken the rules had heavy-duty legal representation and close ties to county politicians. And I’ll tell you, I’ve never seen people (us residents in this case) treated with such blatant disrespect (from the board members in this case). I was utterly shocked. I’m in my thirties and I honestly didn’t believe such behavior could take place in America. Silly me.
    Whew. Glad I got that off my chest.

  2. Morton Leslie - February 3, 2009

    There is a reason for the “by appointment” designation. Full “open to the public”, “tours and tasting” can, and frequently has, created urban problems in rural areas. This location if as described is in fact remote and beautiful. No place for full open to the public.
    Perhaps under one owner this won’t draw that many more visitors, but under another who knows? And if the point is not to draw more visitors then why does Michel-Schlumwhatever want to change it? An lack of candor, me thinks.
    If I owned property in that remote area I would be suspicious of this and object to this as well.

  3. Lee - February 3, 2009

    @ Morton
    For the first time, I disagree with you.
    The point is indeed to draw more visitors, which M-S should be more forthcoming about. However, most of those visitors are already there visiting other wineries. M-S hopes to capture a better share and who can blame them. Unless M-S was giving away free Grand Slam Breakfasts, there should be no discernable increase in traffic. The potential increase lies in right and left hand turns into and coming out of the property.

  4. mydailywine - February 4, 2009

    The key point here is what Tom said about RATIONAL land use policies, people!
    Sonoma and Napa are established winery areas. Residents, new and old, should expect a rational amount of winery visitors as a result.

  5. Tom Wark - February 4, 2009

    As always, Amy delivers the voice of reason.

  6. Morton Leslie - February 4, 2009

    First. You have to look behind the PR. “Poor little family vineyard getting steam rolled by people who don’t even live there.” My guess is that Jean-Jacques still spends a lot of time in Switzerland, Schlumberger doesn’t live at the business and wouldn’t like unannounced visitors at his home either. This isn’t a little family farm and winery, it is a commercial business venture in a rural setting. They are already selling wine and cheese tastings and taking visitors into the vineyard for special tastings at a special price.
    I don’t know the Sonoma winery ordinance, but I suspect there is more to what a “public winery” can do than just accept drop ins. Advertising is probably one. Picnics might be another. Given the wineries “event” schedule I wouldn’t be surprised if there were plans to expand their concert offerings. Imagine having the property next door on concert day. It would get old fast.
    I’ll tell you. Knowing Sonoma and its heavy population of “greens” I sure wouldn’t be publicizing the time and place of the appeal. You might find the place packed with Sierra Clubbers who think attracting more gas guzzlers out of the bay area and into Dry Creek to listen to music is a bad idea.

  7. Judd Wallenbrock - February 4, 2009

    Interesting. Michel-Schlumberger has not been owned by Jean-Jacques Michel since 1993 and has since passed on. Jacques Schlumberger has owned the operation since then, is on site every day, and has been a model to the neighborhood. The winery is in it’s third year of organic certification, it has been awarded the designation for ‘Fish Friendly Farming’ for it’s work to restore Wine Creek, one of the last 3 remaining native salmon spawning creeks in Sonoma County, and gives 50% of its tasting fees back to the Healdsburg Education Foundation — making it not only a steward of the land, but a steward of the community.

  8. Dylan - February 5, 2009

    mydailywine makes perfect sense. Even regardless of the notable mention made by Judd Wallenbrock, if you plan to or already live in an area known for its tourism, then that is something you should expect.

  9. Eric - February 24, 2009

    What happened at the Feb 10 Hearing, was the Use Permit Granted?

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