Santa Barbara County wine industry folk were stunned silent Tuesday morning at the Winery Ordinance Special Hearing as County Supervisors announced their vote to deny proposed changes and additions to the county’s existing winery ordinance — an outcome the industry hardly dared to hope for. Supervisors had called the special hearing after a meeting on Nov. 2 where the Board decided unanimously to continue the issue until they could accept input from the Santa Barbara County Vinters Association.
“We had no indication at all we’d have the political support,” said Morgen McLaughlin, executive director of SBCVA. “That’s why we were advocating for a task force as a sort-of compromise.”
The proposed ordinance took more than five years to craft and included updates and changes to the permitting process for winery tasting rooms, the number of daily visitors allowed, and special events rules based on size of the winery and acreage of grapes grown. Criticism of the proposed ordinance rose within the wine industry with claims the new draft failed to streamline or clarify the winery permit process, and garnered serious concerns that businesses might close because of it’s heavy restrictions.
Members of the county’s wine industry rallied together at the meeting Tuesday to oppose the new ordinance. The dominant hope amongst them was to move forward with the creation of a new Winery Ordinance Task Force, a recommendation from the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association (SBCVA).
“I’m confident a happy-medium can be found through creating a task force with more opinions involved that will help prevent restrictions in the industry,” said Larry Schaeffer, owner and winemaker at Tercero Wines.
During the hearing, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr motioned to modify the existing winery ordinance — a long-standing position she recently renewed at a meeting between Supervisors and wine industry on November 1. Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, having firmly stated her reluctance to throw out the winery ordinance at that same meeting, was expected to follow suit on Tuesday.
Unexpectedly, Wolf changed her vote — bringing the vote 4-1 in favor of rejecting the new winery ordinance.
“We see it as just the start of what we need to do with the wine and agriculture industry in regards to community relations,” says McLaughlin. “We need to educate the public on agriculture and self-regulate better to prevent friction, and we can do a much better job of regulating our industry than haphazard regulations.”