Sunday, April 27, 2008

San Diego County Winery Ordinance Approved

The San Diego County Winery Ordinance was passed this week, making it easier for "boutique wineries" located in the rural areas of the county to open tasting rooms on their property and to sell wine directly to the public. What's easier is the fact that an administrative use permit -- a process that could typically cost up to $40,000 -- will not be required. (Click here for more information about the ordinance and obstacles to getting it passed.) We'll have to see how difficult it is to get the other permits required, such as a bond from the Bureau of Alcohol (to operate a "bonded warehouse"), a license to sell wine and what health permits are required. It is a smart move by the County's leaders to encourage production of drought tolerant crops (i.e., grapes). I spoke with one grower in Fallbrook yesterday, who told me he has yet to irrigate his vines this year. (It's over 90 degrees outside this weekend, and my avocado trees are wilting -- they have needed water this year.) Commentators often referred to the Winery Ordinance as the "Ramona Winery Ordinance -- as that is where the supporters (led by the insurmountable Carolyn Harris) are based. But the ordinance effects all rural areas of the County, including "Blue-Merle Country", which is more popularly know as "Hidden-Meadows" -- a community north of Escondido. I expect that the members of the Hidden-Meadows Winemakers Association will come together in an effort to provide great tasting wines to the public -- and to help offset some of our growing expenses. (Who knows -- we might even eek out a small profit someday.) In this regard, the proprietor of Belle Marie Winery (a professional operation in Escondido) who also lives in the Hidden Meadows area, already has a tasting room under construction! Having Belle Marie Winery located so close provides a solid anchor to the boutique winery business in this part of the County. We can think of Belle Marie as the "mothership" whose education programs (often taught by Lum Eisenman, the icon of San Diego winemaking) in winemaking techniques have certainly benefited "The Blue-Merle Winery" and other fledgling winemakers in the area. It's exciting to think about the possibility of our infant wineries in the neighborhood growing, then coming together to offer walking & tasting tours from one winery to the next, while taking in scenic views of the vineyards, the mountains and views out to the Pacific ocean.

Speaking of education at Belle Marie, the winery hosted a dinner last night with Camillo (the icon of vineyard management from Guadeloupe Valley) as the guest speaker. Camillo spoke about his research project which involves almost 100 varietals on different rootstocks in an attempt to identify the vines best suited for growing in Guadeloupe Valley -- where grapes have been grown for hundreds of years. "A lot of people talk about research," said Mick, owner of Belle Marie. "Camillo is actually doing it," he said, commenting that such efforts are very rare.

Here is a message from Caroyln Harris about the ordinance:

"On a vote of 4-0 today (Ron Roberts was absent) the Supervisors voted to approve the boutique wineries as a right of zoning, without waiting foran EIR and without needing any permits. The county can still be sued onthis during the next 30 days, and we'll have to hold our breath. TheSupervisors agreed with the Planning Commission that an EIR was NOTtriggered, contrary to the advice of their DPLU and County Councilstaffs. The ordinance that was passed gives clear sailing to wineries on public roads. Wineries on private roads will still have some major challenges,and may need to get an administrative use permit. "

(Editor's Note: May 19th. The ordinance was rescinded last week! Hold your horses!)

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