Amador County now has around 50 wine tasting rooms. Most of these are located in the Shenandoah Valley area, and most are on large parcels zoned A or AG, which allow winemaking facilities and adjunct tasting rooms — along with a number of events — “by right.”
Recently, there has been an increase in applications for conditional use permits to permit tasting rooms in conjunction with winemaking facilities on parcels zoned R1A. On those parcels, winemakers need a conditional use permit to allow commercial activity, including direct retail sales to consumers and events. From 2006 through 2016, the county approved nine such tasting rooms. In 2020, four new tasting rooms have been considered on R1A-zoned parcels. One was approved in May and another in June.
The tasting rooms bring visitors and revenue to our county, but also traffic, accidents, noise, night lighting, and increased demand for emergency response. We’ve discussed this issue in past newsletters, including this article published in 2016. (link)
The most recent applicant to come before the public, Blood Gulch, has scaled down its original proposal. Initially, the applicant planned to build a major event center that looked like it could be open every day of the year. In response to comments from our team and neighbors, the applicant is now proposing a smaller tasting room with hours and events more in keeping with similar facilities in the Shenandoah Valley on R1A parcels.
While we appreciate the need for economic development, we are concerned that the proliferation of tasting rooms and event venues could change the character of our rural agricultural areas to commercial hotspots, without accompanying services or adequate infrastructure. We will continue to monitor proposals, encourage Amador County to implement a monitoring system for these conditional use permits, and advocate for the development of a specific plan for the Shenandoah Valley.