Reacting to neighbors' concerns that a larger winery would have an adverse effect on the Dry Creek Valley area, the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustment made the ruling last Thursday.
If Gallo agrees to the environmental report, it will take at least 10 months to complete. The company could also appeal the ruling to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Mike Morrison, a Gallo spokesman, said the company is "going over all its options."
The Sonoma facility can already produce 3 million cases of wine a year -- mostly brands such as Gallo of Sonoma, Turning Leaf Sonoma Reserve, Anapamu and Rancho Zabaco -- and the company would like to expand its capacity to nearly 5 million cases. Gallo currently has a 150,000-square-foot cellar and its plans call for another 100,000-square-foot cellar.
Gallo says it needs to expand the winery to accommodate grapes from new Sonoma County vineyards that are now bearing fruit. Gallo owns about 2,000 acres in Dry Creek, with about 700 acres of them planted to grapes. The company buys additional grapes from independent growers, many of whom have also greatly expanded plantings in recent years.
Neighbors argue that the existing winery can more than accommodate Gallo's vineyard expansion in Sonoma County. The proposed winery, they say, is simply too big for Dry Creek Valley, and they are worried that it will bring additional noise and traffic to the area and create problems with water supplies and wastewater.
"Other than to process out-of-county grapes, there's no reason for the expansion," said neighbor Dieter Thurow. "In our opinion, more than half of the grapes already processed there come from out of the county."
"That's not really true," responded Morrison. Of the 65,000 tons of grapes that Gallo would process in the new plant, 54,000 tons would be Sonoma County fruit, he said. The rest would come primarily from Mendocino, Napa and Lake counties, not the Central Valley.
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