Matt Kettmann

As Wine Harvest Ends, County Talks Ramp Up

Growers Praise Great Quality and Quantity; Winemakers Worry About County Ordinance Update

Thursday, November 29, 2012
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Based on anecdotal reports and preliminary counts, the wine grape harvest of 2012 ​— ​which began in August and is due to be complete any day now ​— ​might be a record-setter for Santa Barbara County, as growers from Happy Canyon to the Sta. Rita Hills have been reporting both impressive quantity and quality thanks to mild, fruit-friendly weather throughout the year. That’s welcome news after two years of weaker yields, when harsh rains and winds knocked down the county’s crop, and, according to Jim Fiolek of the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, is reminiscent of 1997, which critics lauded as one of the best vintages of that decade. The yield has driven grape prices down somewhat, and Fiolek said that consumers can expect to see some of those savings down the road.

Though the picking of fruit is what symbolizes harvest, that activity ​— ​usually carried out in the dark, early morning hours, often by crews of seasonal day laborers ​— ​is only the first step in the process of turning those grapes into wine. Next comes sorting and cleaning of the grapes, which can be done by hand or with a device called a de-stemmer (as seen above at Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley), and then the grapes for white wines are pressed while the reds sit on their skins and sometimes even their stems in fermenter bins. They are checked daily for sugar levels (seen above right at Ampelos Cellars in Lompoc) until fermentation is complete, when they, too, are pressed and put into barrels.

Click to enlarge photo

Matt Kettmann

But as that sequence winds down around Santa Barbara’s wine country, another process is ramping up: the updating of the county’s winery ordinance, which dictates exactly what kinds of wineries can be developed and how. Three months ago in Buellton, at the introductory meeting for the ongoing, Board of Supervisors–requested revision process, about 200 wine-industry proponents rallied against more restrictions in what this paper described as a “love fest.” But those who want more oversight on wineries due to concerns over neighborhood compatibility, drunk driving, and other issues were overwhelmed and intimidated that evening, choosing instead to put their comments in writing rather than speak them aloud.

This past Tuesday, the next step of the update ensued in the Board of Supervisors conference room in downtown Santa Barbara, where about 40 people showed up to the first in a series of topic-based meetings designed to let the county learn more about the issues at play as they determine what changes are needed. This meeting was about tasting rooms, and, after some confusion and critiques about the process ​— ​as the wine industry folks remain unsure why there is an update at all, saying they’ve never been told what the specific problems are ​— ​there was some genuine progress made. Not only was there a tiny bit of warming between the wine-industry advocates and the few, outnumbered wine-country neighbors who showed up to voice their concerns, but the wine folks also started to realize that this process, if handled well, might actually benefit their needs, as well.

The next meeting in that process is on December 13, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m., at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott in Buellton, and will focus on food service at wineries and tasting rooms.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Sure. Have the County Sups bury an industry in our County that actually MAKES money.

BeachFan (anonymous profile)
November 29, 2012 at 8:41 a.m. (Suggest removal)

As long as the burial in AG land has the appropriate EIR and approval from the neighborhoods established on AG land. I think it is covered in Obamacare, on page 2468, that residential use of AG land is granted Nature Conservancy taxpayer expense.

And why not?

Might think about moving Thomas Paine's remains there as well.

virtuallynothing (anonymous profile)
November 29, 2012 at 12:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Being a lifelong resident of the Santa Ynez Valley- it is an important issue to my family...we enjoy the vineyards as much as the wine. Our family has owned this property since the late 1920's.

It is hard to understand how it feels to have a property next door to you purchased by a out of town/Los Angeles area person and turned around as a "business"...when all you do on your property is "live".

While most people who go wine tasting & visit a tasting room for an average of 30-45 minutes, when you live next door to the hosting room- it is a far different experience. I live in a triangle of 3 vineyards with tasting rooms- that not only pour daily- but between the 3 of them there are 36 events a year . At least 50% of them have live music- going past 10pm.

I hope more people turn out to voice their opinions and that everyone is listened to. I appreciate the wine, really appreciate the jobs- but when their needs come at the expense of people having the rights to peace and quiet- there needs to be some FIRM middle ground.

losolivoslocal (anonymous profile)
November 30, 2012 at 8:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

A right to "peace and quiet"?

Is that in the Constitution?

loonpt (anonymous profile)
November 30, 2012 at 9:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

out here in this part of the County- "peace and quiet" is a right- in fact it is a way of life.

losolivoslocal (anonymous profile)
December 1, 2012 at 8:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Loonpt: Can I come by your house and blast my car stereo and still respect the constitution?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
December 1, 2012 at 8:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Is there any escape from noise?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
December 1, 2012 at 10:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

it is again hard to imagine unless one lives here...funny how it is the city folk who questions one's right to peace and quiet- there is nothing wrong with respecting your neighbor and their right to enjoy their property. Obviously it goes both ways- when one side wants commerce/party/100 folks a pop vs a home/animals/privacy- there is going to be some questioning which has more value in the equation.

The simple fact is- when you infringe on anothers space- whether it be for a profit or non profit, you are infringing on another persons space. There is nothing wrong in questioning the continued and flagrent noise and infringements a business makes on a private person. Each are tax paying to the County and the County owes them both a level reason to why they can or can't expect to be respected.

losolivoslocal (anonymous profile)
December 2, 2012 at 8:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The fact of the matter is the Santa UYnez Valley is being turned into one big bar infested by visitors who come here for one purpose: To drink. How anyone with an inkling of life experience can think bars make good neighbors is beyond me.

The politics up here aren't about those who want peace and quiet, it's about benefiting the few who make money off these places.

The very reason people live up here is to get away from the noise and rowdiness. If we wanted that, we'd live in L.A. Oh, and let me call attention to the proverbial "elephant in the living room": Many of these people who drink at these places, drive home impaired.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
December 2, 2012 at 4:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Aren't there legal penalties for people who intoxicate others and send'em on the road?
Maybe there should be some kind of transportation req for these places, let them take some responsibility for the carnage.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
December 5, 2012 at 1:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ken: I believe if you look up "social host" laws you can get the answer to your question. As I recall, the definitions are not clear, but there is a precedent.

Even if there are no concrete laws with regard to this, the moral responsibility remains. Nevertheless, people rationalize serving alcohol to those they know are going to drive home afterward. Amazing.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
December 5, 2012 at 2:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Doesn't anybody grow food anymore?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
December 5, 2012 at 3:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

wine is a bad joke, a turning of food to poison.

GluteousMaximus (anonymous profile)
December 8, 2012 at 8:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You get a lot more per acre for wine grapes than you do for broccoli, Ken. If it wasn't for the wine industry, we would have a lot of "ranchettes" and McMansions and less open space.
Drunk driving is a crime and should be treated as such, and yes it is annoying to have one's bucolic peace invaded by hordes of tourists, but the solution is not to demonize the wine industry. It is to develop an appropriate infrastructure that encourages visitors to hire shuttles, encourages wineries to provide food alongside the wine, and discourages the "Let's see how many wineries we can hit in one afternoon" attitude.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
December 12, 2012 at 8:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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