Rabbit Ridge Vineyards owner Erich Russell has put his Sonoma County winery and vineyards on the market for $5.5 million, confirming long-standing rumors that he is relocating to California's Central Coast.
Russell's move comes just two weeks after he agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a three-year legal battle with Sonoma County and his neighbors along Westside Road near Healdsburg. He now plans to break ground in September on a new 150,000-case winery near Paso Robles.
The Rabbit Ridge brand is not part of the $5.5 million asking price, but included in the sale offer are about 45 acres of land -- 25 planted to vineyards -- in the Russian River appellation, the winery facilities and the 1,000-square-foot tasting room.
Key to the potential sale is the reinstatement of the Healdsburg winery's 50,000-case operating permit. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors revoked Rabbit Ridge's permit in April, saying that the winery had repeatedly ignored deadlines to comply with county land-use rules. It was the first time the county has ever revoked a winery's use permit.
"The sale of the winery will not be consummated until the license is restored," said winery spokesman Sam Folsom.
If the winery is sold, it will end three years of often-heated legal squabbles between Russell and his neighbors, who originally complained to the county about excessive noise and traffic. On investigation, the county learned that seven buildings had been constructed without the proper permits and that the winery was producing 290,000 cases a year -- far more than its legal limit.
The county sued the winery last year and Russell countersued, saying the county had violated his due process rights. Eventually, the winery met most of the county's demands -- including the removal of the seven illegal buildings -- but the two sides did not manage to agree on a settlement amount until after the permit was revoked.
The board of supervisors is expected to rule on the reinstatement of the use permit within 60 to 90 days.
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