Andrew Chen was pumping out push-ups about 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the back
patio of the tasting room at Mayo Family Winery.
His five friends, all in their late 20s and early 30s, were seated around a
picnic table, sharing a 2006 bottle of the winery's red blend, The Libertine,
and counting off their challenge to 28-year-old Chen.
“Thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty seven . . . ” they chanted.
The Sonoma Valley winery was the fifth and last tasting-room visit of the day
for the otherwise mild-mannered group from San Francisco and the East Bay. Like
several dozen other tasters, including the boisterous bachlorette party of 10
women inside, they were at Mayo because the tasting room remains open until 6:30
p.m., allowing visitors to squeeze in a last sip when most other wineries have
closed for the day.
The group had gotten a late start, and the extended hours were convenient,
Still, late afternoon scenes such as this one have raised enough concern over
noise and the risks of alcohol-impaired drivers that tasting rooms around Sonoma
County could be facing new limits on their hours.
The restrictions would take aim at the happy-hour party atmosphere that some
say they've witnessed at local wineries that have moved their hours past the
once-standard closing time of 4 p.m.
In Sonoma County's wine country on Saturday, some tasters agreed with the
need for tighter limits.
“We kind of treat (tasting) like skiing,” said David Mannix, 29, a San
Francisco resident who was wrapping up a day of tasting with his wife at St.
Francis Winery and Vineyards around 3:30 p.m. “We always think that we need to
be done by 4 p.m.”
But others said the limits seemed an unnecessary restriction on a scene that
already tends to be on the subdued side.
“Personally, if I was going to have a party, I wouldn't come here to get
wasted,” said Kevin Burke, 29, a wine country aficionado from San Francisco.
The wineries that might be affected by any new regulation are in the
minority. Among the 67 tasting rooms listed on the Web site of Sonoma County
Vintners, 15 stay open after 5 p.m.
Still, even winery representatives who would be unaffected by the change
bristled last week at the possible regulations. Many said the industry polices
itself, cutting off intoxicated tasters, encouraging the use of designated
drivers and discouraging rowdy behavior.
“I don't think arbitrary (time limits) that apply to everyone is the right
approach,” said Christopher Silva, president and chief executive officer of St.
Others said the regulation could cost them business.
Up to 40 percent of wine sales at Mayo Family Winery happen after 4 p.m.,
said Jeffrey Mayo, the winery's president.
The six-year-old tasting room on a busy stretch of Highway 12 was given a
permit allowing it to stay open until 6:30 p.m. so that it would not close at
the height of rush hour, Mayo said.
Now, he said, those extended hours “are the key to our success.”
A mile and half south on Highway 12, at Imagery Estate Winery, concern about
loud noise or subdued revelry was not apparent Saturday.
A tasting room packed with young wine drinkers hummed with the loud tunes of
a live rock band. Some tasters shimmied on a makeshift dance floor, their wine
glasses held high.
“We have a real cross-section, from blue-hairs to millenials,” said Lance
Withers, the assistant tasting room manager. He described the day's vibe as
Katie Barten, 25, who was visiting from San Francisco with nine
friends for her bachelorette party, took issue with putting a time leash on such
early evening festivities.
“Define raucous,” said the bride-to-be, wearing a playful white veil.
The partyers ended the day at Mayo Family Winery, shuttled there in a Ford
Expedition by a designated driver.
Earlier time limits would only put a damper on such fun, they said.
“Wine country provides such a a perfect place for celebration,” Barten