Sonoma Tasting Rooms: A Response to The Response

idiotspostHaving received a great deal of response and feedback to this post on the issue of too many tasting rooms surrounding the Sonoma Plaza, and even having received a couple emails that included the proper use of the words “asshole” and “jerk”, I thought I had better clarify where I stand on the issue of the number of tasting rooms surrounding the Sonoma Plaza and the question of whether there are too many and if the tourists that frequent them are helping to ruin Sonoma’s small town character.

The following was submitted to the Sonoma Index-Tribune, one of the Sonoma town newspapers, in hopes it may be printed so that my position is made clear. Whether the editors will run it in the newspaper is currently unknown.

Too Much History

Having read a great deal of late about the proliferation of wine tasting rooms surrounding the Sonoma Plaza and the feeling among some that this situation is indicative of the downfall of the town, I thought I ought to offer another perspective, one that comes from a former, long-time resident of the Valley and Sonoma and who has a slightly different view of the situation.

Too many tasting rooms around the Sonoma Plaza are not the problem. Nor is the problem too many restaurants around the Plaza that favor tourism, but push out businesses useful to locals.

Rather, if you are looking for the source of the problem and looking to place limits, then look no further than the history that surrounds the Plaza.

You don’t have to be a hospitality or travel expert to know that history and the historical attract tourists like flies to honey. And there is no getting around the fact that Sonoma has a lot of history. Too much history, in fact! Why, if the Sonoma Plaza didn’t dedicate so much space to the historical, there wouldn’t be so many tourists overrunning the town and pushing out business and services for locals.

Think about it. The Barracks. The Mission. The Sonoma State Historical Park. The Historic Plaza itself.  The City Hall. The Sebastiani Theater And don’t get me started on all the historic buildings that line Broadway, are to the east of the Plaza and take space on each side of the Plaza. It’s overload and frankly, there needs to be a limit on the amount of history that surrounds the Plaza lest the town is taken over by the tourist who only care about the historical and care nothing for Sonoma and its denizens.

I’m not sure what kind of limit there ought to be or where to draw the line. But commonsense tells me that we don’t need anymore than 20 or 30 historical attractions or buildings around the Plaza. After a while, it just becomes overload, the lack of space for other types of businesses is limited thereby pushing up rents and, of course, there is the tourist problem they cause.

It may even be a good idea to get rid of some of the historical attractions around the Plaza. Imagine what could be done if we just choose to tear down the Mission and the Barracks. With that history gone, there would be more than enough room to build a dry cleaner, a paint store, a computer repair shop and maybe even a barbershop or a Five & Dime.

Not only would this new real estate provide room for shops benefiting the locals, but also, more importantly, it would help drive away the damn tourists who are ruining the town for residents.

If the good people of Sonoma are going to contemplate how to get the town back on track and make it safe for residents and not tourists, let’s start where the real problem lies: There is just too much history, not too many wine tasting rooms. Had Sonoma just put a limit on its history a few years ago, I’d never have moved to Napa.

Tom Wark, Napa, CA
Former resident of Sonoma, but driven away by too many historical buildings and the tourists they bring to town.)

This, if it runs in the Sonoma Index-Tribune, should clear up the issue of too many tasting rooms surrounding the Sonoma Plaza as well as where I stand on the issue.

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11 Responses

  1. Fredric Koeppel - February 5, 2014

    Tom, you know that many people have a pretty high irony threshold…they might not understand your “modest proposal.”

  2. Tom Wark - February 5, 2014


    That’s true. But if that’s the case, their problems go well beyond any concern they may have for the town of Sonoma.

  3. Bill Mciver - February 5, 2014

    Nice one, Tom! I thought it was the chickens in the square that brought the tourists.

  4. Wine worker - February 5, 2014

    No better than what downtown Napa has experienced. I would have to say with Healdsburg the “hot spot” of Sonoma wine country, Sonoma Square has been left out due to logistics and need some plan to salvage some of their tourism regarding the wine country. AS I have experienced no town like Sonoma in this area can survive without tourism being a huge influx of cash. Name me one that has? Locals would still shop at Costco and Walmart because they have been trained by our media. The small wine shop could not even afford to stay in business even before the tasting rooms were fashionable in the Square.

    Better yet lets focus on a more serious problem. I recently moved back here for a job in the wine industry and cannot even find housing let alone affordable. The vacancy rate is about 1% in Sonoma and with a dog it is 0%. The county has made millions off the wineries, wine and hospitality; however look the other way when affordable housing is near completely absent. The hospitality employees make up huge chunks of Sonoma County population yet no one can afford to live near their work place. Most of them share housing just to be able to afford to work here. I noticed recently most of the houses I viewed lately were purchased thru foreclosure and bought for a near dime and then rented for absorbent rental price. Average rental in Sonoma is $1700 and that is average, you do not want to know what average can get you. I would like to be a voice for this major problem like most will only tend to get worse unless a major push back is present.

  5. Charlie Olken - February 5, 2014

    You have it all wrong, Tom. The problem is not too many tasting rooms. It is too many wineries. All this small wineries want to have their tasting rooms on the square. It is time for winery consolidation. No wineries smaller than 100,000 cases and all those pissant little guys who line the Plaza would be gone.

    Of course, there is another view of the problem. It is not too much history but too many grapes. No grapes, no wineries. How many lettuce tasting rooms are there in this world?

  6. Michaela Rodeno - February 5, 2014

    It’s not the chickens, it’s the ducks. They, too, must go. Tom, thanks for the belly laugh!

  7. Michael Wangbickler - February 5, 2014

    Well played, sir.

  8. Howard Hewitt - February 6, 2014

    Will be very curious to see if they publish that, Tom. As an old newspaper editor, I never knew quite what to do with such letters. As a wine guy, I love visiting Sonoma … .but always thought it was a bit of an odd mix of things. Not being local, I’ll offer no comment on the right mix. But, love the letter!

  9. Tom Wark - February 6, 2014

    Howard….I understand it’s not the typical Op-Ed submission. And there are other factors at play too with regard to this issue. So, far, I’ve not heard back from the paper on the submission. If not published, I’ll live. Thanks for the input.


  10. Bree - February 6, 2014

    And…. how many of those who are complaining came here as tourists themselves?? Fell in love and now can’t stand the tourists?? Instead of parents (local and tourist) allowing their little ones to chase the chickens and ducks perhaps they can be trained to chase the tourists and they might leave!?!

  11. Richard - February 6, 2014

    Your first meanderings on this topic were good. This one is great. Your tongue is so firmly planted in cheek though that Sonoma may try to pass a restriction on humor and irony as it relates to the Plaza.

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