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San Joaquin County supervisors to discuss new winery ordinance

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Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 12:00 am

Today, San Joaquin County’s Board of Supervisors will instruct the Community Development Department to begin revising the existing winery ordinance, in order to clarify regulations on winemaking and tourism.

Representatives from the Community Development Department will give a presentation about the current ordinance, then ask for advice from supervisors regarding what items the revised ordinance should address during the afternoon session of today’s Board of Supervisors meeting in Stockton.

This step is meant to address an ongoing debate over the use of wineries and wine cellars. Since 2001, when supervisors adopted the current ordinance, tourism and marketing have become essential components in wineries’ ability to evolve and expand. However, as that part of the industry has grown, there is concern from supervisors, the county’s Planning Commission, neighbors and others that some wineries are using agricultural land primarily for marketing events rather than the production of wine.

Neighbors have often opposed attempts by wineries to expand because, they say, the noise and traffic of marketing events disrupts their tranquil country lifestyle.

Supervisors are concerned that some wineries are abusing the ordinance.

“When the ordinance was adopted ... some of the things that are a part of the industry today were never foreseen,” Supervisor Chairman Ken Vogel said.

Vogel added that a revised ordinance will need to address several concerns, including minimum parcel size for a winery, number of events relative to winery production, amplified music, parking and traffic, enforcement and monitoring, cumulative effects, on-site vineyards and more.

Wineries are hoping for added clarity for an ordinance that many consider difficult to interpret.

Last year, Craig and Sheri Watts, co-owners of Watts Winery on North Locust Tree Road in Lodi, took steps toward expanding the size and popularity of their winery. They applied for 30 marketing events per year through the San Joaquin County Planning Commission. Plans also called for expanding its production capacity from 36,000 gallons of wine per year to 200,000, and constructing six 3,000-gallon tanks and a 2,500-square-foot wine-tasting room.

Sheri Watts said her winery’s primary focus is on growing grapes, but that these measures are necessary in order to compete in today’s wine industry.

“We are growers first, but we have another way to market the grapes we grow,” she said. “They should give the wineries a chance. We need to hold events in order to keep up with everyone, and I have to hold them or else I don’t have a customer base.”

Area residents who live near wineries are also seeking clarity.

Fred Donal of Lodi lives near seven existing and proposed wineries. During an interview with the Lodi News-Sentinel in 2012, he said marketing events have always been an issue since the concept was established 12 years ago.

“Build the winery, that’s fine, but let’s get some structure on what a marketing event is,” he said.

Supervisors will also ask the Community Development Department to discuss the existing process to revoke or modify a winery’s discretionary land use permit.

The afternoon session of today’s Board of Supervisors meeting will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the board chambers of the San Joaquin County Administrations Building, 44 N. San Joaquin St., 6th floor, Stockton.

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