Despite the fact that with its 26 farm wineries which according to vintner Chris Pearmund makes it the third largest wine producing county in Virginia, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors is voting at this writing (here, at 7:15 PM, July 12th) on a proposed Farm Winery Ordinance that, if passed, would impose considerable restrictions on the operations of wineries in the county and, say local vintners, these in turn will hurt wineries’ business and discourage sales of existing wineries or construction of any new ones.
According to a story in the Star Exponent of Culpeper, some of these restrictions include limiting the number of special events wineries can hold, the number of people attending these events (proposed at a maximum of 25), and requiring wineries to renew their operating permits every three years. The exact of the proposed new ordinance provisions is as follows:
The proposed regulations allow each Farm Winery to have two events per month by-right during regular business hours (up to 6:00 p.m.), provided there are no more than 25 ticketed/reserved participants, or in lieu of one of these 25 person events each month, a Farm Winery may serve food to the general public. Extended business hours (up to 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. certain times of the year) and one additional event per month limited to 150 ticketed/reserved participants may be authorized by Administrative Permit subject to certain limitations and standards. Larger and more frequent events for 200-500 persons can be authorized by Special Exception under the proposed Ordinance.
Vintner Philip Carter Strother has a petition on his winery’s website inviting visitors to complete with their name and address; he describes the proposed ordinance as “unduly burdensome, [and] will adversely impact the wineries and unnecessarily interfere with their ability to operate successfully.”
The Virginia Wine Council, which lobbies on behalf of the industry and farm wineries, explains that “in contrast to Section 15.2-2288.3 of the Virginia Code, the proposed ordinance sets forth specific restrictions on the hours of operations of farm wineries, setbacks, lighting, noise and access requirements. It also sets forth excessive permitting processes for normal and customary activities without consideration of the cost or economic impact to farm wineries or to the County.”
The meeting started at 5PM and is apparently still going at 10:37PM, with standing room only. Philip Strother reports that wineries in attendance include Philip Carter, Molon Lave, Mediterranean cellars, Delaplane, Three Fox, Desert Rose, Hume, Blue Valley. Philip said that Kate Marterella, of the now-closed Marterella winery, testified at 5:22; they decided to close their winery due to legal expenses incurred in the fight to keep their winery open, which was opposed by homeowner association regulations, as detailed in my book Beyond Jefferson’s Vines. “Fox meadow just asked one of the board members to recuse himself because he is a competitor who sells wine,” tweeted Philip two hours ago.
Raising the dramatic stakes, Jim Law, one of the most respected and longest-standing members of the Fauquier Co. wine community, spoke in favor of the new ordinance, against the wishes of the other wineries present, at 6PM. Shortly afterwards, Jim Dolphin of Delaplane Cellars testified that the new ordinance would put him out of business. I’m just getting tweets at 11:21 that look like the ordinance will pass with at least 3 supervisors to 1 in favor. Those supervisors voting in favor according to Philip Strother include Peter Schwartz, Chester Stribling, Holder Trumbo, with Lee Sherbeyn speakign against it. The last tweet Philip sent confirmed earlier suspicions; the Board voted 4-1 in favor of imposing the ordinance with its new restrictions. Those of you on Twitter can follow Philip STrother (@PCWinery) for more details.
The Council has a link to a Facebook-based petition readers can sign which will be sent to the Supervisors. Consider linking to sign the petition and stay posted for more details. Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore has warned that this ordinance could be challenged in the courts as standing in the way of free commerce and existing farm winery legislation.