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Supervisors OK winery on Sonoma Mountain Road

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The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors gave final approval Tuesday to a new winery and creamery southeast of Santa Rosa, striking down an appeal by Bennett Valley residents who said the project would disturb their rural neighborhood.

The proposed Belden Barns Winery, approved on a 4-1 vote, is set to become the first commercial winemaking operation on Sonoma Mountain Road.

Owners Nate and Lauren Belden, who currently farm 20 acres of grapes on the 55 acres they purchased in 2005, applauded the decision. The couple plan to build a 10,000-case winery, tasting room and creamery with capacity to produce 10,000 pounds of cheese a year.

“We’re excited to move forward with our family business,” said Nate Belden. “This has been a long and frustrating process, but I think now it’s up to us to be good neighbors and to succeed.”

Supervisor Susan Gorin, whose district includes the Beldens’ property, was the lone dissenting vote.

“I support the Beldens’ vision for a small family-run operation that promotes agricultural operations…but what the board approved tonight was not in scale of the Bennett Valley area,” Gorin said. “I am very concerned with the sheer number of visitors on one of the narrowest roads in the county, with a great deal of hidden dangers. And, I’m profoundly puzzled and disappointed about what we are promoting in the county.”

More than a dozen speakers voiced support or opposition to the project during a nearly six-hour hearing.

The group behind the appeal said the Beldens’ commissioned studies understated the project’s impact on traffic and groundwater. The group also cited fear of setting a precedent for other vineyard operators in the area who may want to open a winery.

“Belden Barns is not just a winery. It’s an event center on one of the worst roads in Sonoma County,” said Amy Rodney, speaking to supervisors. “If we pass this, there’s no reason other people will not get in line to get a winery permit and have a tasting room. This is not a suitable location for this project.”

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ahartreports.

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