San Diego County uncorks Boutique Winery Ordinance
This all started back in the day of Father Junipero Serra when he landed on the shores of San Diego and planted a few grape vines he brought with him from Mexico at the San Diego Mission in 1769. It didn’t take long for the first winery to open at the San Gabriel Mission. Wine grapes traveled North to Napa Valley with the Fathers where the Sonoma Mission was founded in 1823. Until that time the missions supported the only vineyards available in California.
Before Prohibition in the 1920’s, San Diego County was one of the largest wine producers in the State. Vineyards covered thousands of acres. Sadly most of the crop was destroyed during Prohibition and the land was converted to other uses.
Fast forward a few years, its 2006, the County of San Diego Dept. of Planning and Land Use attempted to craft a zoning ordinance amendment to allow tasting rooms and retail sales on small boutique winery properties in A-70 and A-72 agricultural zones. The ordinance was driven by Ramona Valley Vineyard and Winery Associations. The amendment underwent many legal challenges and opposition that triggered changes to the amendment and a six figure environmental impact report. After four years the Board of Supervisors finally voted unanimously to give the ordinance its final stamp of approval. San Diego County now has the potential to become a wine-tourism destination rivaling, Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles.
Unfortunately, in San Diego County, about 5000 acres of avocado groves have been removed because of the high cost of water. Fortunately, vineyards are a viable alternative. Juicy grapes require less than a third of the water of avocados and they also serve as a fire resistant landscape.
With the new ordinance not all San Diego wineries will be able to open tasting rooms, there are still requirements such as paved roads and adequate access for emergency vehicles—some growers in remote areas will not be able to meet these provisions.
The “Tiered” Boutique Winery ordinance created 4 categories:
Wholesale Limited- can produce up to 12,000 gallons per year or approximately 5000 cases, and is allowed by right in A70 and A72 land uses with no onsite sales.
Boutique Winery-same as wholesale limited except they can have a tasting room and onsite sales by adhering to specific restrictions. At least 75 percent of the grapes must be grown in San Diego County and at least 25 percent grown on site. Tasting rooms are limited to 10:00 am to sunset. No buses or caravans are allowed and outdoor eating areas are limited to 5 tables and not more than 20 people. No amplified sound is allowed and driveways and parking areas must have chip seal or other material.
Small Winery-grow and produce up to 120,000 gallons but must obtain an administrative permit from the County that will dictate the conditions for retail sales. This permit could cost up to $5000
Winery-No production limits but must obtain a major use permit, which could set you back as much as $250,000.
Wine grapes can be a high value crop generating a gross value of $2000 to $3000 per acre, per year. In 2006 there was an economic impact study done that reported that the California Wine Industry contributes $51.8 Billion to the state’s economy. San Diego certainly deserves their share of the industry and with the new ordinance over 21 tasting rooms and patios have been recently opened in the County, In spite of the fact that we are still awaiting the outcome of an appeal that was heard on June 14th, 2013 San Diego County is moving forward with the ordinance.
Most of the wineries in San Diego County are located in North County along the 15 corridor and in Ramona but East County is home to of some of our own very special vineyards. You may want to look them up and pay them a visit. If you are truly interested, our local junior colleges offer some agricultural courses in wine growing. Go out, have fun and be responsible.
All the information in this article was gathered from several sources and is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. There is so much information available and so many different options and opinions, it is important to do your own research before venturing out.