Jan. 19--Guy Fieri, a celebrity chef known for his rowdy personality, spiky hair and love of roadside diners, is adding an unexpected venture to his mix: winemaking.
The star of the Food Network series "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" has bought a five-acre vineyard of pinot noir grapes in the Russian River Valley appellation and submitted an application to open a wine tasting room on Willowside Road.
"Ever since I moved to Sonoma County and saw all this incredible environment of wine, from the agricultural side of it to the business side of it, to the community involvement side of it ... I've just been in awe," Fieri said Friday. "So my wife and I were talking about it, and saying, 'Can we do that some day?'"
Fieri bought the property last year. In his first vintage, 2012, he sold his grapes to Jackson Family Wines for its La Crema brand and to Williams Selyem winery in Healdsburg, which both have had long-term contracts to purchase grapes from the vineyard.
He has initiated organic farming methods on the vineyard and is working with a vineyard management company to handle the vines, which were planted about 10 years ago.
If Fieri's plans are approved, a three-bedroom home on the property that has served as a crash pad for visiting friends will be renovated to add a tasting room, Fieri said. He also hopes to use the grounds to educate children about cooking, he said.
Architects for the project are envisioning an Italian piazza, with raised garden beds, olive trees and mountain views, according to the application submitted to the county by his company, Knuckle Sandwich LLC. Fieri also requested permission to host 14 events per year, including wine industry events, some with more than 100 attendees. The events won't have amplified music, the application said.
The tasting room, events and Fieri's ability to operate a commercial kitchen on the property are all subject to county approval. At this stage, the county has requested studies on how the project would impact the environment, including a noise study. The application is considered incomplete until those studies are done, said Sigrid Swedenborg, a planner for Sonoma County.
"What we're concerned about is the noise from the events and the traffic, and how that could impact the nearby residents," Swedenborg said.
The quiet Santa Rosa street is popular with bicyclists and songbirds alike, and Fieri's property abuts a horse farm on one side and vineyards on the other. Across the street are homes sitting on vast fields.
"I think it will be pretty small at the current stage that it's in," Fieri said. "But if we're making wine and someone's drinking it and enjoying it, then it's a success. And it may be just us that's drinking and enjoying it."
Fieri bought the vineyards from Jan Goodrich, said Fieri's father, Jim Ferry, who has been Fieri's right-hand man in the wine business.
"This year was a booming year, and the pinot came out real good," Ferry said. Ferry spells his name differently because Fieri took the Italian spelling of his family name in 1996, he explained.
"I've got a lot of buddies that are in the wine business here," Fieri said. "We have a great relationship with Kendall-Jackson and Williams Selyem and Kosta Browne, and we have all these different buddies in the business. They're all great for advice and recommendations."
Bob Cabral, director of winemaking and general manager at Williams Selyem, said he knew Fieri for several years through charity work before Fieri bought the vineyard.
"I think it will be a fun relationship," Cabral said. "He talks just like you'd talk to the next door neighbor. He's a very big personality on TV, but he's a very humble person at home, and I really respect that."
While the plans are still in the infantile stages, Fieri hopes to eventually produce wine with his family, he said.
"Our son's names are Hunter and Ryder, so we'd call it the 'Hunt and Ryde,'" Fieri said. "Maybe some day this will evolve into us being able to produce our own wine, and celebrate some of the bounty of the county."
Staff Writer Brett Wilkinson contributed to this report.
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