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Scribe Winery 150,000-case project near Sonoma ekes out advisory group OK

Water was the word March 22 as the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, in a 5-4 vote, narrowly gave its blessing to a proposal for a new 40,000-square-foot, 150,000-case wine-production facility at the Carneros Business Park in Sonoma's Eighth Street East warehouse district. The facility would be operated by New Komiza, LLC, the company behind Sonoma's Scribe Winery.

The SVCAC ruling carries no official weight, but its stamp of approval could be taken into consideration if and when the project heads to the county Planning Commission.

The meeting launched with public comments from Kathy Pons, president of the Valley of the Moon Alliance, a neighborhood group which keeps tabs on local development projects. Pons has been an outspoken critic of wine tourism-related expansion. She took her time during the SVCAC meeting to reprise concerns about the continued increase in wineries in county-designated areas of concentration, such as the Valley.

Pons said she's frustrated that policies regarding winery events — to deal with size, music and noise – have seemingly been pushed to the wayside due to the urgency of the recent cannabis ordinances. She said her concerns were amplified given that summer and fall, wine tourism's busiest time, are just around the corner.

'We have to weed out the problems in certain areas before this application is submitted,' Pons said regarding the impending review of the New Komiza winery. She ended with a plea to not forget concerns of rural character and water usage.

Pons' remark about water set the stage for the rest of the meeting, which included a presentation by Nicholas Dilorio, of LandPlan Company, on behalf of New Komiza. Water would be on the mind of every SVCAC member during the entire meeting.

The proposed facility would be a merger of two parcels of land at the Carneros Business Park, a 53-acre industrial park located just north of Highway 121 on Eighth Street East, adjacent to Sonoma Sky Park. Current tenants at the park include Ganau America, a wine cork producer, and Laura Chenel's Chèvre, the high-end goat cheese producer.

The winery would produce as much as 150,000 cases annually for New Komiza wine and would potentially serve as a custom crush for local wineries. The facility would be closed to the public, except for the occasional industry-wide event, such as Holidays in Carneros, for which New Komiza would need to apply for a license to offer wine.

W-Trans, a traffic-engineering consulting firm, provided a letter of support, stating that winery traffic would be minimal. However, it wasn't traffic that was the concern: it was water.

New Komiza has already built a well on the site, which has been tested to provide 30 gallons of water a minute. The facility would include the use of what's called a 'membrane bioreactor' wastewater treatment device that would enable New Komiza to recycle 150,000 gallons of water a day, which they intend to distribute to nearby wineries for irrigation. The industrial park also has a bioswale to collect runoff and rainwater which is used to recharge the below ground aquifer. A water conservation plan developed by the Wallace Group states that the property will have as much as 30 percent lower water usage than average in the wine industry.

For an hour, Dilorio and Adam Mariani — a co-owner of New Komiza and Scribe Winery vintner — fielded questions from commission members, which focused primarily on water usage.

Commission members Virginia Dunlap, Tim Freeman and Thomas Martin shared concerns over saltwater intrusion into the wells – which increases water salinity and makes the water undrinkable. Dilorio said there was an unlikely chance of saltwater intrusion due to the facility being located in an area classified as zone 1, a major groundwater basin.

Additional concerns expressed by SVCAC members included questions of boron and arsenic in the water — according to Mariani, results were negative — creative water storage and reuse methods, and fears of continued groundwater decline, water usage and tourism sparked by occasional events.

After intense discussion, the proposal squeaked by the SVCAC in a 5-4 vote, with commission member Sean Bellach urging that New Komiza revise its proposal make it more clear that they would ask for permits for occasional events, explore further opportunities for water conservation, reuse, and report frequently on the results of their water conservation efforts with the goal of becoming a model for future wine production facilities.

Opposing the project were SVCAC members Thomas Martin, Margaret Spaulding, Virginia Dunlap and Jack Ding.

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