unedited 12/08 tahoe mt. news
By Kathryn Reed
After more than 80 meetings and reviewing about 75 versions of the county’s wine ordinance, John Smith hopes the matter is essentially put to rest Dec. 11.
That is when El Dorado County planning commissioners are expected to OK the much discussed document that governs what wineries and grape growers can do. The Board of Supervisors should take the matter up in January or February.
Smith, who founded and owns Oakstone Winery, has been working on the ordinance for seven years.
“The one in effect in 2001 had gaping holes in the regulation,” Smith said.
The wine industry convened a slew of meetings to iron out its needs and desires, including redefining what a winery is. The Agricultural Commission has been an integral player. The Economic Development Advisory Committee and Planning Commission have been involved. A Winery Industry Subcommittee was formed.
Last year the ordinance came to the supervisors, with some wanting an environmental impact report to be done. Supervisor Norma Santiago was one of the voices saying no to that idea.
“There was a dispute in terms of what traffic was generated because of wine events,” Santiago said.
It was agreed that the interested parties would go back to the table to see if a compromise could be worked out that so a mitigated negative declaration could be issued – meaning no EIR was needed, but environmental concerns like traffic, noise and air quality would be addressed. California Environmental Quality Act regulations were met.
One way to meet the concerns is winery folks agreed to cut the previously allowed 88 events a year to 48. Instead of events lasting three days, they can go on for two. If a vintner wants to have more events, a conditional use permit is possible.
Some wineries have special days for club members, some host weddings, most participate in shindigs put on by organizations they belong to such as the Jan. 24-25 barrel tasting which is an El Dorado Winery Association event.
The 21 members of the El Dorado Winery Association and 21 in the Fair Play Winery Association unanimously endorsed the version of the winery ordinance up for a vote this month.
“Because this has dragged out over such a long period of time, we have been able to listen to and incorporate concerns of the grape growers and smaller wineries not in the associations,” Smith said.
Even though events are a way to draw people to wineries, especially in these economic times, Smith said his industry is holding its own.
“The last thing people give up in a recession is their drinks. That has been proven over the years. But they do become more selective,” Smith said.