While approving a winery application for an Acampo project and another in the Tracy area on Thursday, San Joaquin County planning commissioners were looking at the bigger picture — whether wineries were trying to beat the clock before a potentially more restrictive ordinance is adopted by the county.
The discussion at Thursday's Planning Commission meeting came as M2 Winery sought the county's blessing to conduct as many as 30 "marketing events" at the winery it wants to construct on Peltier Road between Lower Sacramento Road and Highway 99. Windmill Ridge Winery near Tracy wanted 36.
Commissioners approved development of the M2 Winery, but limited the number of special events to 24 annually.
In wine lingo, "marketing events" are intended to promote the wine the host winery produces. In recent years, however, the events have expanded to include wedding receptions, upscale parties, fundraisers for nonprofit causes and political fundraisers.
Some of these events have resulted in neighbors complaining about traffic in their peaceful country setting, as well as live or recorded music over loud amplifiers. M2 didn't request any amplified music at all.
"I don't like to appear arbitrary, but the wineries are doing this to us," commissioner Clem Lee said. "They are trying to jockey for position."
The county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors haven't voted on a new winery ordinance because county staff hasn't heard from the winery ordinance task force since Nov. 1, 2012, when the task force submitted recommendations, according to Mo Hatef, a county planner. Community Development staff are waiting for the task force to issue final recommendations.
Lodi Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Pat Patrick, a member of the advisory task force, said in a telephone interview after Thursday's meeting that the 25-page report given to the Planning Commission in November is the final report. He says the task force's work is done.
The task force recommends no more than 24 marketing events — two per month — for any winery. Those already granted more events would be grandfathered in and wouldn't have to comply with the 24-event limit.
On Thursday, commissioners focused on reducing the number of marketing events on the Acampo and Tracy applications.
M2 wanted permission to have up to 30 events annually, though owner Ted Woodruff said they only plan five to 10 events initially.
M2 currently has a winery on East Turner Road near Cluff Avenue.
"We've had our winery for seven years," Woodruff said. "We've outgrown it."
On Peltier Road, just east of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, M2 winemaker Layne Montgomery said they hope to plant Zinfandel grapes and a couple of white varietals on the property.
"I don't want to run a wedding — Jesus," Montgomery said after the meeting. "We just want to make some wine and sell it."
It took two votes to approve the M2 proposal. Commissioners voted 2-2 with one abstention to limit M2 to 20 marketing events per year. Commissioners Randy Hamilton and Chris Kontos voted in favor of the 20-event limit, while Stan Morri and Miguel Villapudua opposed it. Lee abstained.
Then Lee, Morri and Villapudua agreed to 24 events, with Hamilton and Kontos voting no.
Hamilton, a Linden farmer who represents the Lodi area on the Planning Commission, said he supported 20 marketing events because M2 will be a new neighbor on Peltier Road.
"I'm inclined to put them on a trial basis," Kontos said.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.