On May 13, friends and club members of Carr Vineyards and Winery received an email announcing the 414 N. Salsipuedes St. location’s new hours will no longer include the popular “Late Nights in the Barrel Room” events held every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening. The winery is well-known for the weekend events, which featured live music and wine-by-the-glass up until midnight for sometimes over 100 visitors at a time.
Carr’s new hours are one result of the Santa Barbara Fire Department’s recent crackdown on downtown wineries to ensure occupancy limits and safety measures are being properly met. After fire chief Andrew DiMizio heard about Carr’s “Nights,” the city’s fire department recently dispatched an inspector to Carr, Santa Barbara Winery, and Oreana Winery to enforce occupancy rules. Designated as M-1 Light Manufacturing Zones, the wineries’ occupancy limits cannot exceed 49 people, no matter what the square-footage is of each building.
In order to exceed the 49-person occupancy, wineries may file for temporary assembly use permits, which put specific safety measures in place on a one-time basis. However, according to fire marshal Joe Poire [battalion chief Pat McElroy was initially identified incorrectly as the source], these permits are only appropriate for a business to acquire a few times per year.
“It’s really just a de facto change of use,” he said of Carr hosting large gatherings multiple times per week. “When you open a nightclub, we have very specific things you need to put in for the safety of a larger crowd.”
In order to host large events on a frequent basis, Poire said, the wineries must apply for a permanent change of use. While the permits themselves are insignificant in cost, ensuring the safety of larger crowds often entails expensive construction. Oreana winemaker Christian Garvin said that abiding by the rules will make the charity events he regularly hosts “smaller and less profitable,” and added that hosting larger events significantly helped local winemakers, especially in shaky economic times.
“They’re trying to pigeon-hole us into the [safety requirements of a nightclub],” Garvin argued. “The nightclub feel was never the case at Carr or here at Oreana.”
Jamie Heer, manager at Carr winery, admitted their new hours will affect employees. “We haven’t let anyone go, but hours have absolutely been cut,” she said. She also mentioned that a few local bands have lost their favorite venue. Meanwhile, Santa Barbara Winery manager Suzanne Fitzgerald, who received a visit from city officials despite never hosting large events, said she would be willing to go through the trouble of getting a permit for special occasions, but would have to transfer the related costs over to customers.
Even with the disappointment and big readjustments the wineries must make, all parties involved understand and respect the rules. Garvin suggested the fire department was “helpful” in rearranging an upcoming event, and Fitzgerald admitted, “I completely understand — we do have a large area but we don’t really have proper safety measures in place… I think all of us want to be on the same page [when hosting larger parties].”
Meanwhile, Carr remains upbeat about the future and has avoided pointing any fingers, choosing to leave out the details when announcing their new hours.
“We’re kind of looking at it as a positive thing,” says Heer. “We can focus more on making and selling wine rather than on being a club.” The winery will still remain open until 8 p.m. on weekends — later than most wineries — and will offer other promotions to stay in touch with fans.
“We think it will be a good thing, “ Heer confirms. “They’re just doing their job.”