Speak against Ft. Ross Vineyard’s tasting room Sept. 21

Where This Is

A coastal travelogue wonders

whither the wine tasting

By Susan Kennedy

Go north on Highway One through the little town of Jenner. At the end of town, pull over in to one of the turnouts to take in the awesome sight of the Russian River’s entrance into the ocean, Goat Rock to the south, seals, gulls, pelicans, surfers at the river mouth. Continue north as the road follows the coast, looping down through two small gulches, then rising up again onto a straightaway. To your right are the newly protected Jenner Headlands.

Just after the entrance to Muniz Ranch, you will see a steep ridge rising ahead. This is our destination, the first ridge in from the coast, rising rapidly to 1,600 feet, marking the end of the mountain building more than a 100 million years ago when the spreading ocean floor was subducted under the continental edge. Here the San Andreas Fault comes ashore again, paralleling Highway One. As the road snakes up the ridge with hairpin turns, blind curves, steep drop-offs, and few guardrails, take in the breath-taking and sometimes terrifying views of ocean and cliffs, coastal grasslands and brush rising into oak, redwood, fir, bay laurel, buckeye, madrone and maple. Keep your eye out for the wildlife that live here: hawks, vultures, owls, rabbits, foxes, raccoons, deer, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions.

About 4.4 miles north of Jenner, the Meyers Grade turnoff is on the right. Notice the advisory against trucks and trailers. You are now at 600 feet. While the road winding and rising before you may seem mild compared to the dramatic stretch of seacoast you have just navigated, beware. In the 2.6 miles to our destination, the land rises on an 18 percent grade. Engines overheat on the way up, brakes on the way down. It is an unforgiving road, with many blind curves, no shoulders, and often blanketed in a dense, zero visibility fog.

You have seen no commercial establishments since Jenner—just the coast, parkland and ranchland. The road is fenced for grazing cattle and horses but sometimes fences break. Watch out for leaping deer. As the climb gets steeper, passengers can look back at the sweeping view behind them. On a clear day you can see Bodega Head and beyond that, Point Reyes. Not so long ago, this road was a trail. For thousands of years, this was the land of the Kashaya who called themselves “The Keepers of the Land.”At 2.6 miles from Highway One you will see on the right the gate to 15001 Meyers Grade, the site of Fort Ross Vineyards’ planned retail tasting room and events facility. The 6,000 square-foot tasting room would be open year round without an appointment. The owners have also asked for 18 special events with 200 people. Despite strong community opposition, the Board of Zoning Adjustments approved the permit, reducing events to 10 with 100 people. The owner can apply in one year to have this restriction lifted.An ad hoc group of residents is appealing that decision before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 2:10pm. This ridge-top is a non-commercial, rural, residential, water scarce area, designated a scenic resource. It is a high risk fire zone, with dangerous, barely maintained roads and already stretched thin emergency services. The costs to the local community and environment must be weighed against the supposed benefits of increased tax revenues and one-and-a-half tasting room jobs. Is this an appropriate place for the sale and serving of alcoholic beverages, sometimes to large groups of visitors?

More than two and a half million visitors a year come to the Sonoma Coast to directly experience the power and beauty of nature, hiking, camping, fishing, surfing and cycling in this magnificent, unique and fragile ecosystem. Wine tasting open to the public and large events emphasizing alcohol consumption, where they are not now permitted, would be an unprecedented and dangerous intrusion and belong in established commercial areas on major, well maintained, roads, such as Highway One and Highway 116.Written comments can be submitted to: Permit and Resource Management Department , 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95403. Contact Cynthia Demidovich at 707.565.1754 or via email to [email protected]

Susan Kennedy is a poet who has lived in West Sonoma County since 1982.