Paul Wellman

Back Door Prohibition

Revised Winery Ordinance Not Needed

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
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I previously lived near the San Fernando Valley and in Orange County, which was then full of agriculture and open land. Now in those counties, agriculture is forever gone and replaced by massive development. Here in Santa Barbara County, the future of wine and agriculture is under assault by a minuscule number of self-appointed prohibitionists who find fault with the strategies that help keep the wine-agriculture industry in the black: grape processing, wineries’ “for profit” and “nonprofit events,” and tasting rooms on vineyard land. Although they say they want an honest and civil discussion of the issues, quite frankly, the wine industry is tired being “civil” in light of the relentless attack on our constitutionally protected right to grow, process, and sell wine.

Being “civil” is what got us into the position of seemingly going along with the “tainted” Planning and Development process. The proposed Revised Winery Ordinance (RWO) will increase the cost of winery development, severely restrict winery events, and ignores the billion-dollar economy of the wine industry. The support of the prohibitionists’ point of view by the county will result in the future failure of agriculture and lead to massive development in the county.

Greater regulation of landed wineries is disguised as a simple “revision” of the existing Wine Ordinance. Planning and Development’s ill-conceived process has so far cost over $250,000 and will eventually go for approval by the Board of Supervisors. Our agricultural lifestyle is at stake as well as the loss of massive dollars from diminished wine tourism. The threat is being driven by a few who personally don’t like others consuming alcohol. The prohibitionists are lone individuals, who, through a relationship with Supervisor Doreen Farr, managed to get this unwanted RWO process started.

The RWO will harm the wine industry in the following ways:

• Imposes an arbitrary “80 people at a time” limit on the number of visitors allowed in a landed tasting room. Room capacity restrictions regulated by the Fire Marshal already handle this.

• Decreases the number of viable parcels that can house wineries with tasting rooms by requiring a minimum of 10 acres. Countywide there are 128,995 parcels; 94.5 percent of them would not, under the proposed RWO, be allowed public visitation. Compared to the existing ordinance, this is a 22 percent increase in parcels that could not support tourism; it’s an immeasurable decrease in actual public visitation.

• Sends dollars out of our county. Currently 75 percent of the wine grapes grown in Santa Barbara County leave the county; thus, they provide no additional economic benefit. Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe Winery stated at a recent seminar in Santa Ynez: “The county is losing 80 percent of the potential economic benefit of the wine industry because of our lack of fermentation space and tasting rooms for direct sales. A full 47 percent of dollars brought in by California wineries are from tasting rooms. In 2007, the localization value of a bottle of wine can be expressed as seven times the value of the grapes alone.”

• Limits the ability of small family wineries to process and sell their wines. These regulations hasten the day when small family wineries will be forced to break up their land into “ranchettes” because growing grapes will have become economically unsustainable.

• Reduces potential tourism. It is ludicrous to suggest that the proposed RWO will be “beneficial” to the wine industry or the county. Wine tourism will suffer, as will the lodging, restaurant, event, and retail industries. Visitors won’t be able to easily buy directly from small landed wineries if tasting rooms are not allowed.

• Reduces support for charities. Should a winery seek to hold events, the minimum parcel size proposed is 20 acres. Vineyards, or any other ag landholder in the county with no winery operation, can hold unlimited charitable events. However if a winery is added to a smaller parcel, it would not be able to hold events of any kind. On parcels 20 acres or larger, some events will be allowed, but the allowed events will include nonprofit events in the winery’s total count — forcing those wineries to decide between “profit” and “nonprofit” events. This will immeasurably harm our local charities.

How can restricting visitation to tasting rooms, reducing the venues available for charitable events, and dramatically reducing available parcels that are suitable for a winery with a tasting room be considered positive for the wine industry, agriculture, or tourism in the county? This is our future if the proposed RWO passes. Please speak up! Just because the county has spent two years and $250,000 on the “open” process of the proposed RWO doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do in the first place.

At the Planning and Development meetings I attended, almost no one in attendance spoke in support of creating a RWO. We were told that those who want greater restrictions on landed wineries were “intimidated” by the pro-winery crowd, and they therefore chose to present their case in writing or in private: where it could not be publically challenged. The prohibitionists’ ultimate goal is clearly the demise, or at least the economic strangulation, of the wine industry. But in actuality the prohibitionists are very small in number, so one has to ask, who at the county level is so anti-alcohol that this unwanted process got started in the first place? If the RWO process were not predestined to regulate and harm the wine industry, then we would have been consulted prior to the process being proposed! We were not consulted in advance and were entirely blindsided.

Write the supervisors and tell them that you live here because of the beauty and openness of Santa Barbara County and that you want the proposed RWO process entirely stopped. Otherwise, be prepared to see the remaining agriculture and wine industry slowly perish and massive development flourish.

Ross Jay Rankin is president of the Winegrowers of Santa Barbara County, Inc. – PAC. He is the owner and winemaker at Imagine Wine, LLC in Santa Ynez.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

With over 60 wineries encompassing more than 21000 acres, SB is an area "on the way to viticultural stardom" says this site:
Balance is key, Mr. Rankin, and you make some powerful points, particularly over lost tax revenues. However, the areas in the Santa Ynez Valley are saturated with vast wine acreage, and it's been growing exponentially. Just as the SY Chumash face heavy opposition for their Casino/alcohol/fee-to-transfer efforts (Camp 4), enough's enough and the fantastic RATE of winery expansion in these beautiful areas needs to slow considerably. I support Sup. Farr and her efforts to slow down your growth: you are admirably partisan as President of the Winegrowers of Santa Barbara County, Inc. – PAC .
Balance is being lost, and like the SY Band of the Chumash, we need to protect the land from your very aggressive over-development. A limit on parties and tasting-room size is a good thing, and will not ruin these businesses, most of which are pretty new.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
July 9, 2014 at 6:13 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Can't we get some orange juice?
The ag in SFV and OC is gone because people sold their land to developers, not some grand conspiracy. It's disingenuous to label the entire community prohibitionists, maybe many of you are economic imperialists.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
July 9, 2014 at 8:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

and HGWMV points out, on another thread, the vast amounts of water being pumped out of the ground for these expanding vineyards. Hey, I'm all for cultivating fine wines, and have supped out there (no more), but yeah, KV, "backdoor prohibition" is a bit too much. We're raising plenty of grapes out there; more expansion, NO.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
July 9, 2014 at 8:31 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Why doesn't this PAC prove they're not Prohibitionists and grow some marijuana.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
July 9, 2014 at 8:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I am not a prohibitionist. Quite the contrary: I drink lots of wine. But I cannot abide misleading arguments.

The article says: “Countywide there are 128,995 parcels; 94.5 percent of them would not, under the proposed RWO, be allowed public visitation” (i.e., winetasting and commercial events). That’s 7,095 parcels that WOULD be allowed public visitation. Napa County has 497 wineries and Sonoma County has 416. The RWO then provides the opportunity for SB County to have 14 times more wineries than Napa and 17 times more than Sonoma. Hardly damaging to the economics of the wine industry; but definitely damaging to the the Santa Ynez Valley.

The piece says the RWO will limit wineries having charitable events, but also notes “Vineyards, or any other ag landholder in the county with no winery operation, can hold unlimited charitable events.” So, limitations on wineries won’t harm local charities: they can have as many events as they need on lots of farms, estates, and vineyards.

Mr. Rankin’s vision of unlimited winery development will support tourists and investors to the detriment of residents and local farmers.

valleyfarmer (anonymous profile)
July 9, 2014 at 11:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@Mr.Rankin: I will concede to the possibility--and in light of the history of local politics--probability, that you are right on target about the onerous regulations imposed on your business ventures since it's an open secret that Santa Barbara County is a very business unfriendly area. Having said that, I would like to address the greater issue, which is the predatory nature of your profession.

First of all, I am not a prohibitionist, I feel that whatever a person wants to put into their body is their choice, and that the government has no business in such matters. I have no problem with liquor stores, as the people come in, buy the alcohol, and take it home with them/go to a friend's house, and consume the product. My problem is the drinking and driving that your businesses tacitly encourage, and the critical mass of people who live in neighborhoods which are being encroached upon by wineries is moving against such establishments, much to your chagrin.

I moved up to the Santa Ynez Valley area back in 2005 and we came up there because we wanted a more laid back, rural Middle America feel; this is why people live up in the Valley, to get away from the hectic pace of life down South, but in the last few years, we have watched wine bars pop up like mushrooms all over the Valley. Los Olivos has morphed from a community of art galleries to wine bars. You can call them "tasting rooms", and insist that people "drink responsibly", and you can also put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. There was much protest against the influx of these bars by locals in Los Olivos but the monied interests won the support of venal politicians who caved in and gave the bar owners what they wanted.

I made the analogy on another thread about how your industry is analogous to a person who goes to a park where people like to sit and relax, brings their boom box with them, sits right next to someone who is relaxing and reading, then cranks up their boom box with loud annoying music. The person they have chosen to sit next to says "please go away, your bothering me and turn down the music", and the person moves three feet away, but continues to blast the music. Then the person says "hey, I don't want you here, get out, leave me alone", then the person with the boom box says "I can do whatever I want, and if you don't like it, YOU leave". Then other people in the park gather, walk over to the aid of the person being harassed, and tell the bully "leave", and the bully seeing they are outnumbered, leaves angrily. The bully in this case is the wine industry forcing itself down the throats of locals who do not want loud parties and drunk drivers in their neighborhoods. The people have spoken, they don't want you there, they did not move to those places so they could live in a bar.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2014 at 6:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

(Part two of two)

You people have encroached upon enough turf, there are plenty of wine bars where people can get drunk in the Valley and you folks are overstaying your welcome. You know what is is really about, so quit pretending it's anything other than what it is, your establishments do not benefit the locals, and whatever money it kicks in to the economy makes no difference in the lives of the average person.

There was nothing wrong with the Santa Ynez Valley before the booze industry took over, be content with what you have, and realize that if you push people, they will push back, as you are beginning to see.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2014 at 6:25 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Why doesn't this PAC prove they're not Prohibitionists and grow some marijuana.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
July 9, 2014 at 8:38 a.m

Well Ken, turn up the volume and listen to THIS

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2014 at 6:43 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Oil development has also recently collided with the same small command and control crowd you have. These 'Cartman' types have discovered how to weaponize the planning ordinances to their advantage. Measure P as they like to call it in our case.

These folks are void of facts, but long on theater.

nuffalready (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2014 at 2:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Geez, billclausen, sounds like you really need to pour a glass of wine and watch Sideways!

atomic_state (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2014 at 3:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Atomic_state: That is so original, I never heard that before. Did you think that up?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2014 at 3:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Are crops being rotated? These vintners do realize crops need to rotated as to not depleted the soil of nutrients (especially since groundwater is being depleted.)
I think you'll find most critics aren't anti-wine, just against the imbalance and resulting impact on their neighborhoods.
Mr. Schaffer has been a vintner for over 20 years. I'm surprised if he welcomes all the new competition. It's like opening an In and Out next to a Burger King across the street from a Hamburger Habit.
Competition must be getting fierce up there, maybe I should open a winery there too.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2014 at 3:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

My grammar skills were obviously depleted last post! Sorry!

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2014 at 3:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Grape vines grow and last anywhere from 10-30 to over 120 years!!!

Instead of rotating crops, organic wineries in northern california have found that ground cover cropping systems have been able to protect soils from erosion, provide aeration, nutrients and improve soil structure and water holding capacity as well as help deter pests without the use of pesticides.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2014 at 4:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Interesting perspective among the Indy editors. Messing with wine amounts to a 'Backdoor Prohibition'. Messing with oil? We're OK with that.

Message from the Indy? Stay home and get drunk

nuffalready (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2014 at 5:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Valleyfarmer's post 7/9/14 was plenty specific, nuffalready, why do you "respond void of facts, but long on" BS?
nuff, the Indy has been frequently criticized for being far too friendly to alcohol industry interests so your criticism above has no logic at all. Further, it's a Voices piece, not by the Indy.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
July 10, 2014 at 6:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@billclausen: Ya use a "ha ha" when a ;-) would be more precise, & somebody takes it hard.... Oops, sorry! I'll never laugh with at or near you again, promise ;-).

atomic_state (anonymous profile)
July 11, 2014 at 12:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Mr. Rankin - tell us how we can help. This is just one more run-the-small-business-out-of-town ploy. We should all question who is really behind this "revision" and stand with our local vintners who add so much to our county. Tell us where to sign up for email alerts so we can write our reps & speak out at meetings - and WE WILL SPEAK UP.

maximum (anonymous profile)
July 11, 2014 at 9:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

PS - you hypocrites out there who like European charm, you're trying to kill it with such a stupid revision. Heck we'd like MORE little wineries to be able to serve sandwiches & cheese along with that great wine. Maybe the food industry ought to pipe up here?!

maximum (anonymous profile)
July 11, 2014 at 9:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Vineyards are not passive enterprises. Converting rangeland into mono-culture vineyards is commercial development.

Cogito (anonymous profile)
July 11, 2014 at 9:39 a.m. (Suggest removal)

21,000 acres and growing isn't "small business", max., and you are correct, Cogito.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
July 11, 2014 at 11:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Ah, how I miss seeing abundant bobcats, badgers, golden eagles, a few bald eagles, magpies, snakes, tiger salamanders, spadefoot toads, etc, along roads in grazing country that now grows only grape vines! Vineyards support big flocks of starlings (non-native), but not much else. Just a thought!

atomic_state (anonymous profile)
July 12, 2014 at 1:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

agree, atomic, and specifically along Happy Canyon Road. More limits on winery growth needed: support Sup. Farr.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
July 12, 2014 at 3:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Ah, how I miss seeing abundant bobcats, badgers, golden eagles, a few bald eagles, magpies, snakes, tiger salamanders, spadefoot toads, etc, along roads in grazing country that now grows only grape vines! Vineyards support big flocks of starlings (non-native), but not much else. Just a thought!

atomic_state (anonymous profile)
July 12, 2014 at 1:49 a.m.

No dolphins?

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
July 12, 2014 at 5:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

So much inaccuracy and hyperbole packed into one op-ed Does R.J. Rankin REALLY represent the approach that the Winegrowers of Santa Barbara County feel will best lead to a workable solution? While single-issue punditry and fabricated information may work at a national level where 90% of the public has no direct experience with the PAC viewpoints expressed, Mr. Rankin's approach fails miserably at a local level where residents and neighbors have daily interactions with the ongoing activities of wineries-cum-bars. They can see with their own eyes what is going on.

Los Olivos ought to be renamed Vinoso, given its numerous wine bars (33 are listed at in a roughly 1/8-square mile area, complete with swerving pedestrians and drivers. Mr. Rankin and others should talk to my friend who endures diesel fumes from the touring busses that park next to her living room and leave their engines running for hours so that drivers can stay air conditioned. As a four-year resident, I had two close-calls with drunken drivers exiting Grand Ave. In both cases, drivers turned westbound from Grand into the oncoming lane of Hwy. 154 for approximately a quarter miles before realizing they were driving at 55+ mph on the wrong side of the highway! Both drivers may have simply been visiting Brits confused by the double-yellow lines painted on American highways, but I'd lay excellent odds they were guy-next-door wine drinkers who were literally over the line.

Sorry, Mr. Rankin. The art of political compromise is the art of listening to everyone, gathering the (actual) facts, then working out the best possible political solution; it yields results that are often not what everyone individually wants, and it does require work, but it frequently succeeds. If you want to hyperbolize (such as labeling neighbors who seek workable solutions "prohibitionists" and politicos) then you're merely a lazy pundit who's trying to avoid the hard work required of engaging the civic process. At the very least, the Winegrowers of Santa Barbara County--assuming they actually represent a majority of local wine interests--ought to utilize representatives with basic competency in County- and city-level political procedure. Save the punditry for wine-catered barbecues.

ndbradley (anonymous profile)
July 17, 2014 at 11:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I love Rankin's comment that "the wine industry is tired being “civil” in light of the relentless attack on our constitutionally protected right to grow, process, and sell wine." Guess what, there is no such constitutionally protected right. Growing grapes might be part of the constitutionally protected investment backed expectations that one has when they buy agriculturally zoned land, but processing and selling wine isn't. Wineries are essentially an industrial process, and far too many of these operations are fast becoming de facto special event facilities. If they can't support their grandiose, overbuilt industrial facilities just based on their wine sales, then they shouldn't be in business.

discoboy (anonymous profile)
July 17, 2014 at 12:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Two excellent letters above. Let's not lose focus that Rankin is no different from a bully who finally got hit in the face, got his nose broken, and is crying.

I don't wish Mr. Rankin any ill, but when you shove your agenda down people's throats even after they have made it clear they don't want your business in their neighborhood, eventually Critical Mass rises up and nails you.

It's not all about You Mr. Rankin.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
July 17, 2014 at 3:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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