Will Sonoma County Nix Food With Wine?
There is a move afoot in Sonoma County, as there is in Napa Valley, to put some sort of restrictions on winery marketing. As far as I can tell, the premise is that if we restrict how wineries can market and sell their wines there will be fewer visitors and this will impact wineries and county revenues in no way whatsoever. In theory.
Among the activities that the No-Winery-In-My-Backyard-Crowd objects too in Sonoma County, as well as in Napa, is the serving of food with wine in tasting rooms. It appears the primary criticism of wineries offering food pairings with their wine tastings is that it works; that is, visitors like it and it might encourage more visitors to come to wineries.
And of course visitors to wineries appreciate food and wine pairings. It gives them the opportunity to experience the wines they are tasting in the context they will most likely be using them—while eating. The food and wine pairing experience is more desirable in almost every respect to the simpler wine-only tasting experience. Equally important, consuming food while sampling wine mitigates the effect of the alcohol in wine. I presume this is a good thing, but who knows.
It was at a recent Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting that the Supervisors heard from a number of local residents determined to support new restrictions on Sonoma County wineries—including restrictions on food service at wineries. They meet again on this issue in 60 days.
Napa Valley dealt with the issue of food and wine pairings back in 2010 when the Napa Winery Definition Ordinance was amended to explicitly allow them as long as the part of the fee for the tasting and pairing that related to food didn’t exceed the cost of the food. Hopefully, Sonoma County will make an equally sage decision as Napa did 6 years ago.
This type of limitation was put into law in Livermore, a tiny (by comparison) market. The results were, predictably, negative for the wineries. Also meant that wine tasters had reduced access to food to balance their alcohol intake. Guess how that works out?
Hope that the Sonoma city fathers make a better decision.
This is the same sort of nonsense that years ago led some NIMBYs to call for poor or very few road signs so that tourists would not be able to find the Sonoma wine country and give up and go to Napa instead. Thus less traffic on Sonoma County roads. Some pointed out that having them drive around in circles in Sonoma, and getting them irritated in the process, would still be traffic with now angry motorists on the roads.
Here in Oregon we restrict selling meals at wineries in farm zones as this was seen as attracting a new group – those going out to eat – in addition to the wine tasting crowd. We didn’t want the extra conflicts in the farming areas and it was seen as unfair competiton to legitimate restaurants, where operating expenses are higher.
Food pairings are permitted at special events, but everyday tastings are more limited to snacks. It’s possible to have quite a few special events each year.
How it’s going depends on who you ask. Some of those wineries whose business plan calls for significant food service don’t like it, and some restaurateurs don’t think it’s enforced well enough.
Oregon’s wine country is not as monocultured as is Napa and Sonoma, and other commercial farming operations are negatively impacted by the traffic and the people in the rural area. It’s a tough situation.