Sonoma Square Tasting Rooms

One of the most contentious aspects of the wine trade, one that the general public is basically utterly unaware of overall, is the push and pull between local communities and wineries opening tasting rooms.

There’s a common process that happens.  At the beginning, many a quaint downtown has been happy to see the previously vacant storefronts filled with businesses.  After some time, people start showing up.  Wine tourism is very real and a strong driver of tourist visits in a number of areas.  I wrote about the Sierra Foothills and how wineries in the region are working to life towns that look in some ways, like they might cease to exist if folks aren’t careful.

For a while, the locals tend to be THRILLED.  I was in Walla Walla two summer’s ago and saw the next steps.  Those increased dollars and foot traffic bring in a ton of businesses that the locals have always wanted.  Good food, a hotel or two and even more dollars for the local economy.

Eventually though, competition starts to grate on people.  Sonoma Square is probably my family’s favorite place to spend a day in wine country.  It has all the trappings of a wine country destination.  Yes, there’s plenty to drink.  But, there’s good food, really good food.  The kids park is awesome and centrally located.  The Barracks and walkable museum shows where California became a country and my school aged son, loves this kind of stuff.  It’s a great place to spend a day.

However, as Sonoma News reports, at some point the prices that are driven by the increasing appetite of the wine industry for space can drive out other smaller local business.  I’ve seen part of this in Los Olivos and other spots, but there’s a very real concern that wine country destinations, need to continue providing stores like children’s toy stores, clothing stores with reasonable prices and the type of spots that we all shop on a monthly basis.  Those are exactly the type of spots that simply cannot compete with a winery selling $75 Pinot Noir.

So what’s a region to do? Quite clearly, all the steps before the last one are great for local taxpayers in terms of the type of community that they live in, but also for their local government and its tax base.  But, how do you control the death spiral of local business that can result?

I think there’s a very real onus on local officials to have clear strategies on growth and how winery tasting rooms are considered part of the fabric of a town and not the only thing that’s going to exist.  Some cities try to do it, like Los Olivos has, by limiting the number of local tasting rooms.  Others allow a set percentage of alcohol permits as part of local business licenses.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer, other than to note that cities and wider municipalities, need to try.

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