Downtown Petaluma wine tasting room gets approval

A Petaluma auto racing entrepreneur with a burgeoning boutique winery got the green light this week to open a new downtown tasting room, a first step in a major expansion plan that includes construction of a new riverfront winery facility around the corner.

The Petaluma Planning Commission voted swiftly and unanimously on Tuesday to approve a permit for Adobe Road Winery’s tasting room at The Great Petaluma Mill, 6 Petaluma Blvd. North. It will be downtown Petaluma’s second wine tasting room, and the first serving a wide variety of wines.

CEO Kevin Buckler said the tasting room would be a way to introduce Adobe Road to the neighborhood, building a rapport before the larger facility at 1 C St. goes forward. He closed a current tasting room in Sonoma in preparation for the move, causing a homecoming of sorts for a winery that has operated off of South McDowell Boulevard since 2008.

“We figured on building a little community support, and from our side, a little visibility being involved in the community now, rather than waiting until a year from now, 18 months from now. And that location is perfect,” he said.

Buckler expressed excitement to launch the new location at the old mill, an 869-square-foot spot anticipated to open in July. Yet it will be the C Street location where Adobe Road will really stake its claim.

Planned to be somewhere in the range between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet, the location will house the winery, a restaurant, a visitor’s center and elements referencing Buckler’s business and history in auto racing. The building is in contract to purchase, and if all goes according to plan, the new site could open as soon as next summer.

Buckler said he and winemaker Garrett Martin also considered a number of locations outside of Petaluma for their new facility, including spots in Healdsburg, Sonoma and Sebastopol’s Barlow. Yet it was at the utilitarian C Street auto shop just off downtown’s turning basin where Buckler said his vision materialized.

“I want to capture the essence of the waterfront,” he said. “Drinking a glass of wine, eating a slice of pizza on the deck – that’s what we want to do.”

Efforts to find a new home for the winery kicked off around two years ago, when interest in Adobe Road began to accelerate, Bucker said. The 4,000-case-per-year winery currently shares space with The Racer’s Group-Aston Martin Racing, an auto racing and trackside events company which Buckler moved from Monterey to Petaluma in 2004.

It’s a motor-vintner synergy that Buckler said has worked well, with Adobe Road wines and decked-out Aston Martin racing cars often playing a role at the same events.

“It’s a unique blend of their racing team and their winery,” said Commissioner Bill Wolpert, recalling a prior visit to Adobe Road’s facility in Petaluma. “I think having that in the old mill will be kind of cool.”

The winery uses grapes from both Napa and Sonoma counties, and currently produces 14 different wines, said Martin, the winemaker.

Adobe Road is one of only a handful of wineries in the so-called Petaluma Gap, an unofficial yet increasingly recognized viticultural region encompassing the wide, windswept valley between the Sonoma Mountains and the coast. There are around 80 players, mostly vineyards, in the area, and efforts are underway to get federal approval to designate the region as an official American Viticultural Area, or AVA.

Noting that many of Sonoma County’s cities have strong wine industry offerings, Commissioner Richard Marzo lauded the upcoming tasting room in downtown Petaluma.

“I think having a local winery in that building is going to be a great addition to the town,” he said.

Designs for Adobe Road’s C Street location are evolving - Buckler said the concept drew some inspiration from Healdsburg’s SHED, but will feature more industrial textures befitting the working history of downtown Petaluma.

He emphasized that the city itself has been on the rise in recent years, a message he’s taken across the country for racing and wine-related events.

“I’ve become the unpaid and volunteer national brand ambassador for Petaluma, California,” he said.

(Contact Eric Gneckow at On Twitter @Eric_Reports.)

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