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Supervisors approve revisions to tiered winery ordinance

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 April 27 to approve revisions to the county's tiered winery zoning ordinance.

"I think it's a great ordinance," said Supervisor Greg Cox.

"I'm pleased to vote for this," said Supervisor Bill Horn. "We've made a lot of progress since we've first started that."

In August 2010 the Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve a tiered winery zoning ordinance which allows tasting rooms and on-site sales by right at Boutique Winery operations with various restrictions including limiting tasting rooms and on-site sales to land with A70 or A72 agricultural zoning.

A Boutique Winery is limited in production to 12,000 gallons (equating to approximately 5,000 cases) annually. At least 25 percent of the fruit used for the wine must be grown on the premises and at least 75 percent of the fruit must be grown in San Diego County.

Tasting hours initially were limited from 10 a.m. to sunset. Pre-packaged food can be sold and consumed while catered food service is allowed, but on-site food preparation has been prohibited (state law defines "food preparation" as changes to the form or flavor of food). No bus or caravan tours are allowed, and chip seal or alternative material is required for driveway access and parking areas. Outdoor eating areas are limited to five tables and no more than 20 people. Initially no amplified sound at all was allowed.

"We've uncorked an industry," said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

The ordinance also allowed specified small winery events with an Administrative Use Permit, which requires public notice and environmental review but only requires a hearing if requested by any party. A Small Winery is limited to annual production of 120,000 gallons, and for a Small Winery at least 25 percent of the fruit used for the wine must be grown on the premises and at least 50 percent of the fruit must be grown in San Diego County.

The Winery use established prior to the 2010 ordinance has no production limit and is allowed by right in all industrial zone classifications and with a Major Use Permit in areas with RR Rural Residential, RRO Recreation-Oriented, A70 or A72 agricultural, S87 Limited Control, S88 Specific Plan Area, and S92 General Rural zoning.

"The adoption of a winery ordinance has been a success," said county Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) project manager Joe Farace.

"It works wonderfully," said Beth Edwards, who owns Edwards Vineyard and Cellars in Ramona along with her husband.

Cox noted that in the early 1900s San Diego County was known for wines. "It seems like we're getting that reputation back," he said.

"The number of complaints from neighbors has been virtually non-existent," said Peter Clarke, who owns Alpiano Vineyard and Winery in unincorporated Escondido along with his wife. "That's as good as zoning ordinances get,"

"Today's action as I see it only builds on that first step," Jacob said. "I really believe that these changes will provide the wineries greater flexibility."

None of the amendments required a revision to the ordinance's Environmental Impact Report. One adds a statement of purpose declaring that the intent of the tiered ordinance is to promote production of wine from fruit grown in San Diego County, to support local agriculture, and to provide reasonable standards and procedures for the operations of wineries, and that statement of purpose also notes that commercial activities not authorized by the ordinance are prohibited without proper permitting.

The size limitations for a production facility are 1,000 square feet for lots of less than an acre, 1,500 square feet for lots between one and two acres, 2,000 square feet for lots between two to four acres, and an additional 2,000 square feet for each additional acre not to exceed 5,000 square feet total. The substance of that did not change, although the amendments convert those figures into a table format, and a sentence was added that no barns, agricultural storage buildings, or other accessory structures shall be used for production.

The prohibition of the use of storage buildings for production does not preclude those buildings from being used for storage. A separate set of amendments notes that the tasting and retail sales area may be no more than 30 percent of the permitted facility and that barns and storage buildings are not counted in the overall area.

"The equipment is typically associated with the grape growing on the site rather than the wine production," said PDS planner Heather Lingelser.

That section amendment also clarifies that Boutique Winery structures must comply with applicable commercial building codes, including Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and that the tasting rooms are subject to the California Retail Food Code and the food provisions of the County Code. The section also defines a tasting or retail sales area as a room, cave, trellis, or covered or uncovered outdoor patio area which is dedicated for wine tasting, sales of wines produced on-site, and food-related items. All of those areas combined are limited to 30 percent of the production facility size.

"It still has to be one area," Jacob said. "This is in the environmental document. It's very specific."

For the Small Winery tier only a new section addresses multiple properties commonly owned or leased by a winery operation. "Fruit grown on the premises" may include a non-contiguous parcel under the same ownership or lease although all properties must be included as part of the Administrative Use Permit and only one of the parcels can have the wine production facilities, tasting area, and event area. If the winery is less than eight acres, at least 50 percent of the fruit grown on the premises must be grown on the parcel with the production facilities and tasting area. For wineries of at least eight acres, at least 25 percent of the on-premise fruit shall be from the parcel with the production and tasting facilities.

The 2010 ordinance prohibited special events including weddings and parties at a Boutique Winery. An amendment defines an event as an organized activity or gathering which is advertised or promoted, although agricultural instruction and educational tours are exempt as are production, sales, and tasting activities. Up to six community events sponsored by a non-profit organization or government agency and open to the public are now allowed each year contingent upon issuance of all permits required by the Sheriff and the county's Department of Environmental Health.

The conflict between the prohibition of on-site food preparation and the regulations of catered food which allow for some finishing on-site was resolved in part by the allowance of one mobile food facility at a Boutique Winery during operating hours; that mobile food truck cannot be parked in one of the required parking spaces for winery patrons or employees.

Wineries will be open to the public no later than legal sunset between March 2 and October 31, but operation is now permitted until 6:00 p.m. from November 1 through March 1. Any outdoor lighting must company with the county's Light Pollution Code.

The prohibition on amplified sound was modified to allow indoor amplified sound such as recorded music, although outdoor amplified sound is still prohibited. The tables used for outdoor activities are prohibited to the public after the winery's hours of operation, which does not prohibit the property owner from private use beyond winery operation hours.

The prohibition on bus and caravan tours was not affected by an amendment to increase allowable vehicle capacity from 12 to 15 passengers, since 15-passenger vehicles tend to be the same size as 12-passenger vehicles.

The allowance of imported fruit and wine enables blending by the local winemakers. For both the Boutique Winery tier and the Small Winery tier the amendments prohibit any wine produced off the premises from being sold on the premises and require the winery owner to keep records detailing the amount of fruit grown on the premises and the amount of fruit or juice imported from off the premises, including the off-site grower's name, address, and growing operation location.

Lingelser noted that such record-keeping is already required by the state. "The new requirement will simply provide the county the ability to review these records," she said.

The allowance for off-premises grapes not only enables blending but also supports wine grape growers who do not have wineries. The requirement for 25 percent of the fruit to be grown on-site and 50 percent or 75 percent (depending on winery type) to be from within San Diego County was unchanged.

"The purpose of the sourcing requirement is to encourage the use of locally grown grapes," said Lingelser.

PDS staff had proposed an amendment to prohibit any wine from being imported from outside of San Diego County. The county's Planning Commission recommendation in favor of the comprehensive ordinance amendment was to maintain the allowance for wine from outside the county, and the Board of Supervisors action was to stipulate that any out-of-county wine be non-bottled bulk wine.

The Planning Commission vote February 5 was 4-1 with Michael Beck opposed due to the allowance of imported wine and two members absent.

"We believe that these changes are a major step towards nurturing growth of our wine region," said Bryan Woods, who represented the Planning Commission at the Board of Supervisors hearing. "The importation issue is justified with a fledgling industry. We believe that this issue could be revisited in five to seven years."

The Ramona Valley Vineyard Association includes growers who do not produce their own wine.

"Everything else is about farming; this is about making wineries viable," said Bill Schweitzer, owner of Pacielo Vineyard and founder of Ramona Valley Vineyard Association, of the imported wine allowance.

Schweitzer added that allowing the transportation of imported wine reduces the risk that imported grapes will ferment during their transport to San Diego County, which would not only have product implications but could also possibly attract insects to the transport vehicle.

"I really don't want to see those bugs introduced into the county," said Schweitzer.

Stephen Kahle and his wife first planted grapes on their Ramona property in 1995, opened Woof n Rose Winery in 2007, and added a tasting room in 2011. "Imported wine is very common practice for the wine industry," he said.

Kahle noted that the demand for certain grape varietals exceeds that quantity currently grown in San Diego County. "I think we're going to have to go outside the county to pick it up," he said.

Kahle believes that allowing 25 percent of the fruit or wine to be imported is a suitable balance. "I think 50 percent imported wine might be a bit too much," he said. "I think we have a good ordinance."

"Fifty percent bulk wine from anywhere is way too much," said Edwards. "Twenty-five percent would be enough."

"We appreciate the support this ordnance gives to San Diego's agricultural future," said Alysha Stehly, who lives in Valley Center and manages Valley Center vineyard land totaling approximately 50 acres.

"We've come pretty much together on this," said Jacob.

"I do believe it's a huge step forward for the wine industry," said Supervisor Dave Roberts. "Local consumers want locally-produced products."

"The nice thing about grapes is they use a heck of a lot less water," Horn said.

"We want this to happen," said Supervisor Ron Roberts. "We want to see this continue."


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