Fauquier Co. Sups Vote 4-1 on New Ordinance to Restrict Winery Business

Jul 12

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.

2 comments

  1. Corrections and clarifications to the reported information:

    Under the approved Fauquier County Ordinance, UNLIMITED numbers of people may come and taste, consume and purchase wine and consume food at a winery that does not require preparation in a licensed kitchen during regular business hours, to include all day Saturday and Sunday.

    IN ADDITION, wineries may have two events per month with food without obtaining any approval from the County…these events may be as large as 25 people after business hours or one event may be unlimited during business hours. This is a total of 24 events a year.

    IN ADDITION, with additional approvals, wineries may have additional 24 events a year, up to 200 people … for a grand total of 48 events or about one per week.

    These 48 events are in addition to the unlimited tastings that may occur.

    Come on folks!

  2. Clarification/correction:
    I didn’t say that the ordinance would put Delaplane out of business although more than one blogger has interpreted my comments that way. What I did say was that the ordinance will reduce our cash flows which, therefore, reduces the value of the winery and makes financing more difficult. State law requires that any local winery regulation take into account the economic impact on the farmer which this ordinance does not adequately consider.

    What I personally find particularly offensive is that throughout this process, the farm wineries have been characterized as “roadhouses” by a local group of wealthy longer-term, large landowners (the CFFC…see their website) and at least one Supervisor who has also been quoted as saying that the wineries are worse for the County than both Disney and uranium mining. Obviously, that Supervisor could give a rip for the little guy who stands to benefit from the positive economic impact that farm wineries have on the local economy. I have witnessed this firsthand having just returned from Paso Robles where the wine industry is booming and downtown is, too, thanks to the wineries. (And oh, by the way, the traffic on the local back roads was extremely light.)

    Regarding the anonymous comment above, I will only say that the Administrative Permit and Special Exception processes which MAY allow additional “events” put the wineries at the mercy of the Zoning Administrator (who recently cited a farmer for farming!…yes, really)and the Board of Supervisors, respectively. Not only that but the ordinance defines “events” to include any activity where prepared food is served. So, if you are a winery that routinely pairs food with wine, then you’re SOL. I could go on and on.

    I have no problem with regulating LARGE events, whether they be wine, equestrian or political in nature. Smaller events, say less than 40 or 50 people, should be exempt. This ordinance is way over the top and illegal under current State law for a whole host of reasons as has been pointed out to the Board by the County Attorney as well as the Secretary of Agriculture. As wineries, we already have the State and Federal governments in our business way more than they should be. And now this!

    If I was Governor McDonnell (a huge supporter of the Virginia wine industry), I’d be chewing on some serious Fauquier County donkey right now.

    Jim Dolphin, Owner
    Delaplane Cellars

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