Planning Commission recommends revisions to tiered winery ordinance

03-03-16-RE-Change to tiered winery ordinance-stock photo

Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent

The county’s Planning Commission recommended revisions to the county’s tiered winery zoning ordinance.

A 4-1 vote Feb. 5 recommended the changes to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Leon Brooks, Peder Norby, Michael Seiler, and Bryan Woods voted in favor of the recommendations. Michael Beck cast the opposing vote. Doug Barnhart and David Pallinger were not present. The county’s Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) plans to docket the ordinance changes for the March 16 Board of Supervisors meeting.

“I think this was a well thought out amendment,” Seiler said.

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 are 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 is prohibited. (State law defines “food preparation” as changes to the form or flavor of food.)

No bus or caravan tours are allowed; the ordinance prohibits vehicles with a capacity of more than 12 passengers. Outdoor eating areas are limited to five tables and no more than 20 people. No amplified sound is allowed, and chip seal or alternative material is required for driveway access and parking areas.

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 reason we’re here today is about enforcement,” said Carolyn Harris, who owns Chuparosa Vineyards in Ramona along with her husband and is also the Ramona Valley Winery Association general counsel. “We have a very good winery ordinance supported with an Environmental Impact Report.”

None of the proposed amendments would require a revision to the 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 will not change, although the proposed 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.

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.

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. A proposed amendment to prohibit any wine from being imported from outside of San Diego County was rejected by the Planning Commission.

Norby noted that importing grapes would create the same amount of truck traffic as importing wine but that the weight of the trucks would not include the grape skins. “The wine would actually be less volume, weight,” he said.

“It seems to me that’s already a high threshold,” Norby said of the local production requirement. “I don’t have a problem with importing 25 percent wine or 25 percent juice.”

The elimination of that prohibition caused Beck to vote against the amendments on the grounds that imported wine did not serve the purpose of enhancing local agriculture. “The less we import the more it’s going to happen here in San Diego County,” he said.

The allowance of imported fruit and wine enables blending by the local winemakers. For both the Boutique Winery tier and the Small Winery tier, amendments would prohibit any wine produced off the premises from being sold from the premises and would 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.

For the Small Winery tier only a proposed 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 and, 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. A proposed 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.

If the amendments are approved, up to six community events sponsored by a non-profit organization or government agency and open to the public may be 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 would be resolved in part by the allowance of one mobile food facility at a Boutique Winery during operating hours; that mobile food truck could not 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 Oct. 31 regardless of the fate of the amendments, but a proposed change would allow operation until 6 p.m. from Nov. 1 through March 1. Any outdoor lighting must comply with the county’s Light Pollution Code.

The prohibition on amplified sound would be modified to allow indoor amplified sound such as recorded music, although outdoor amplified sound would still be prohibited. The tables used for outdoor activities would be 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 would not be affected by an amendment to increase vehicle capacity from 12 to 15 passengers, since 15-passenger vehicles tend to be the same size as 12-passenger vehicles.

“The draft ordinance amendments are intended to resolve discrepancies,” said PDS project manager Joe Farace.

“It really helps to clarify a lot of things,” said San Diego East County Regional Chamber of Commerce general manager Eric Lund.

“It’s not going to take away any of the safety recommendations,” said Valley Center Fire Protection District fire marshal George Lucia.

“The wine industry is unusual because many wineries increase the chance of one winery being a success,” said Pacielo Vineyard owner and Ramona Valley Vineyard Association (which includes growers who do not produce their own wine) founder Bill Schweitzer. “Consumers are drawn to wine country.”

The allowance for off-premises grapes not only enables blending but also supports wine grape growers who do not have wineries. The Ramona Valley Vineyard Association currently includes approximately 100 vineyards, and approximately 25 of those have wineries.

“This will continue to promote the use of locally grown grapes,” Farace said.

Peter and Denise Clarke had an avocado grove in unincorporated Escondido which was burned during the October 2007 fires. In 2008, they planted 3,600 wine grape vines, and in 2012 their Alpiano Vineyard and Winery tasting room was opened.

“This industry started in agricultural buildings and garages,” Peter Clarke said.

“We are not all Napa Valley millionaires looking to make a million in the wine industry,” said Elaine Lyttleton of Hatfield Creek Vineyards and Winery in Ramona. “We’re retired bookkeepers and firefighters. We’re not retired dot-com executives.”

The eight wineries along the Highway 94 corridor operate under all three tiers of the county’s ordinance. “The ordinance has been a great boon for the Highway 94 corridor,” said George Novinger, whose Vineyard Hacienda winery is on the Spring Valley/Jamul border.

“This is all about local agriculture,” said Alysha Stehly, who lives in Valley Center and manages Valley Center vineyard land totaling approximately 50 acres. “It has the intent of supporting San Diego ag.”

Stehly noted that sufficient grapes can be grown and sold in San Diego County if such production is economically feasible for the farmers. “You’ve got to offer the grape growers a fair price,” she said.

“Market forces are going to determine the quality as well as the quantity of our wine industry in San Diego County,” Beck said.

Norby noted that the microbrewery industry has been in San Diego County for 27 years and brings $1 billion annually to the area. “It’s very important economically,” he said.

Harris noted that the tiered winery ordinance places more restrictions on Boutique Winery operations which do not require discretionary permits. “It’s these regulations and limitations that make the by-right category what it is,” she said.

“If you want to go to the next step, you can set a little money aside and go to the next step,” said Mike Menghini of Menghini Winery in Julian.

Novinger indicated that the cost of an Administrative Use Permit was approximately $20,000 and the typical process took eight months. “It’s not that difficult to get a Small Winery permit,” he said.

“It’s not that much of a hurdle,” Lund said.

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