Update #4.0: Politics of Wine – Next Hearing June 14, 2013 – San Diego Wine Country – the Tiered Winery Ordinance of 2010

The latest post on this topic – County Ordinance and Wineries win a 2nd time is here: http://www.winetastingsandiego.com/2013/07/politics-of-wine-san-diego-county-wineries-wine-lovers-win-a-2nd-time-court/

The next scene in San Diego County’s fledgling Wine Industry plays out in a few weeks on Friday, June 14th, 2013 in a Fourth Appellate District Division court room (Open to the Public – 9:00 AM, 750 B St. downtown San Diego).


This hearing will consider an appeal of a failed CEQA/EIR challenge to the County’s Tiered Winery Ordinance and also the associated $16,444 in County legal/preparation costs assigned to the plaintiff.

As mentioned in a previous blog post (below), a legal challenge to the Tiered Winery Ordinance was filed in September of 2010 (word is – bankrolled by a member of the secretive San Diego Citizenry Group). The group’s website is no longer up on the Internet and its only presence is a solitary Facebook posting dating from June 2010 stating “protecting private roads from retail wineries.” The group’s membership and former website ownership has always been obscured/non-transparent.

Importantly, despite dire warnings of winery Ordinance opponents in both Amador (east of Sacramento) and San Diego Counties, to no surprise, there have been *NO* winery related alcohol incidents in either County, in the past almost 5 and 3 years respectively – as far as our research can determine.

That original San Diego County Ordinance challenge failed in a Superior Court of California ruling by Judge Timothy Taylor on April 15th 2011, and Citizenry was ordered to reimburse the County for $16,444 in County legal defense and document preparation costs. Coastal Law then appealed the ruling on June 10, 2011 to the California Appellate Court which eventually brings us to next month’s 14 June 2013 hearing…

A bit about San Diego County wineries:

The Ramona Valley AVA wine  country is ~30 miles northeast of downtown San Diego, California and  has over 20 winery tasting rooms and tasting patios that have opened since the fall of 2010 as allowed by the headline’s Tiered Winery Ordinance.

There are now approximately 90 Federal (TTB website) listed wine producer/blender permit holders in San Diego County. By comparison and on a similar scale as Amador County wine country (east of Sacramento) – and as an example in un-common sense ;-), Amador implemented their Ordinance in 2008 within weeks/months of San Diego County’s efforts, allowing winery tasting rooms there while San Diego County was forced to contemplate the effort, delay, and cost of an (unnecessary) EIR.

The region’s warm dry growing season, coupled with a Pacific coastal marine influence is similar to that of the older, more famous wine-growing regions in California.

There are no absolute winners in lawsuits – except lawyers bank accounts.

Since there was no lawsuit in Amador -  threatened or otherwise – Amador County winery business plans are two-years ahead of those for San Diego County wineries. Worse, San Diego County and its taxpayers are some $250,000 poorer since the lawsuit forced the County to complete an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) when the original “negative declaration” was more than sufficient – as was the case in Amador County.

If San Diego County doesn’t win again in court – local operating boutique wineries here will be faced by either additional industry-fatal permit fees, or be forced to shut down. Also if the County does not prevail a second time, it could be out the legal costs of the prevailing party. In any event, taxpayers are still out the $250,000 that went to EIR staff and consultant fees.

For the sake of the public coffers, local wineries, wine-lovers, wine-tourists, and the local tourism industry – let’s hope for another win for the County!



 If you are interested in more information about Eagles Nest Winery and Cottage, you can see an article on us in San Diego Reader magazine at this link. Or simply visit the many blog posts on this (public) blog.

Our Web 1.0 website is http://eaglesnestwinery.com and our private blog for customers is http://eaglesnestwinery.ning.com . We’re a leading winery on Twitter at http://twitter.com/eaglesnestwine and on Facebook at this link.

Thank you for visiting this site! 




Update #3.7 Politics of Wine – Next Hearing June/July 2012 – Ordinance stands for now – San Diego Wine Country – the Tiered Winery Ordinance of 2012

Legal limbo continues. The “Wheels of Justice” grind slowly – one of the oh-so-many many joys in doing business (of any kind) in litigious California.

(Part of the reason the state was voted the least business-friendly state in the USA for the 8th year in-the-row (but that’s another story – for a non-wine blog site) 

As before, and in the mean time, the 2010 Tiered Ordinance stands tall and continues to enable Public Tasting Rooms in San Diego County’s growing (for now) Wine Country…

Last month (January)  the County Counsel filed respondent’s brief and Coast Law Group has another response period into February. Then the Appeals Court will determine if the parties want an oral argument, which is usually the case. Oral argument could happen right away or within six months–that is unpredictable and to-be-determined. If the case is argued in court, it would take place in the 4th District Appellate Court, Division 1 in  downtown San Diego, CA. Most likely this appeal will be heard in the summer of 2012.

So local wine lovers and visiting wine tourists are encouraged to visit and support San Diego County’s Award Winning Boutique Wineries.

From prior posts - Chris Polychron of Coast Law Group filed an appeal of the San Diego County Tiered Winery Zoning Ordinance of 2010 on behalf of the SD Citizenry group on June 10, 2011 with the Superior Court of California. It was received on June 22, 2011 by the California Appellate Court.

Polychron filed the required brief on Monday of this week (Nov 14th 2011) appealing Judge Timothy Taylor’s April 15, 2011 ruling denying the anti-winery group’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) based challenge.

Judge Taylor’s April ruling also ordered the SD Citizenry group as part of their lawsuit loss, to reimburse the County the $16,433.67 cost the County incurred to prepare the Administrative Record for the lawsuit.

The County is now working on a response brief, having 30 days plus an additional 30 day grace period. SD Citizenry’s attorneys will then file a response and then appellate court will schedule an oral argument.

The appeals process will take many more months but the current ordinance remains in effect and winery tasting rooms remain OPEN FOR BUSINESS for the enjoyment of San Diego wine lovers and tourists.

Legislative background: San Diego County Supervisors unanimously approved on august 4th 2010 a Tiered Winery Zoning Ordinance and General Plan amendment that allows boutique wineries by right of land ownership, to open tasting rooms on land with A70 or A72 agricultural zoned land. This action sought to encourage jobs, commerce, and agricultural activity in the County. The stimulus provided by this ordinance is particularly needed during the current economic crisis.

From prior posts – Winery opponents appealed their April 2011 Court loss along with a $16.4K award of administrative record preparation costs to the County.

Opponents in their appeal are again asserting CEQA violations and contest the order to pay the County $16.4K in administrative record preparation costs.

The appeals process is long and complicated so the end date of this process is TBD, a current estimate is a several months beyond November 2011.

As before, and in the mean time, the 2010 Tiered Ordinance stands enabling public Tasting Rooms in San Diego County Wine Country – so local wine lovers and visiting wine tourists are encouraged to visit and support San Diego County’s Award Winning Boutique Wineries.

As you may recall, the Superior Court of California issued a ruling Friday April 15th 2011 that upheld the San Diego County Tiered Winery Ordinance.

Back in September 2010 “San Diego Citizenry Group” challenged the ordinance on CEQA grounds, seeking an injunction against its provisions.

Furthermore Citizenry was ordered to reimburse the County $16,444 for legal defense costs.

This hard-fought ordinance was over four years in the making, and was finally passed unanimously by the Supervisors in August 2010.

The thoughtful ordinance provided for a multi-level or “tiered” winery industry and in part, grants badly needed by-right tasting rooms to Boutique Wineries eliminating an onerous ~$250,000 Major Use Permit process that was effectively preventing this fledgling industry from happening – ironically in one of the (potentially) best wine-grape growing regions in the state .

As in August 2010, local wine lovers and wineries must hold their collective breath for a few more months with the hope and expectation that the Appeals Court upholds the original ruling against the opponents and in support of the County winery ordinance.

Appeal aside, area wineries continue to face costly and prohibitive building permit mandates by the County Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU). This is the next issue that the Supervisors will need to address. Sadly the local building industry would benefit from these projects if excessive standards were not forced upon Boutique Wineries.

In the mean time, locals, please (again) raise a glass and toast the visionary Supervisors and wish the wineries the best as they begin work this next bureaucratic challenge. Let’s also toast to the future wisdom of the Appeals Court to decline the Winery Opposition’s appeal of their April lawsuit loss.

“Salute” (Italian)

“Salud” (Spanish & Latin America)
“Santé” (French)

My post in September 2010 started off saying “We had been holding off hoping to finally post good news for San Diego County wine lovers, tourism, and the community as a whole, but alas, that is not the case.”

The wine grape harvest for 2010 has been delayed in much of California, Oregon, and Washington state, due to cool weather so we have time to post on this topic today as we urge the brix (wine grape sugar content) upward.

You say: “Hey! I saw that the San Diego County Tiered Winery Ordinance passed on August 4th – Hooray!

When are the new winery tasting rooms opening? I can’t wait!!!”

Well wait you must.

Lawsuits as a weapon of mass obstruction: While the San Diego County Tiered Winery Ordinance still stands, anyone opening a tasting room under its current provisions is are risk of premature shut- down if the courts issue an injunction as a result of the lawsuit that has been filed (3 Sept) by a local group of ordinance opponents. A similar lawsuit threat was raised some two years ago by the same opponents.

CEQA a complicated well-meaning law: Those of you who are familiar with California Environmental law – primarily the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), know that this well meaning law has been used not only to protect the environment, but also in an unintended way, as a tool to stop development and projects beneficial to the community.

After the last lawsuit threat, San Diego County regrouped and spent $250,000 completing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) plus the cost of associated staff time, hearings, and public review processes to provide the legal means of moving forward with a county-wide winery ordinance.

Most folks in the county we’ve discussed these issues with, support San Diego’s nascent winery industry, agriculture and business in general. They cannot understand why the opponents continually block this beneficial initiative.

Others residents simply can’t understand the County’s prohibitively expensive permitting process – when wineries state-wide have reasonable and affordable opportunities for on-site tasting rooms and sales. The delays and cost inherent in the prior ordinance are the primary reason there has only been ONE new on-site winery tasting room open in the last few years. When advised of a $250,000 winery Major Use Permit (MUP) most citizens (rightfully) display a jaw- drop of significant proportions and typically say “That’s ridiculous.”

To be fair here, it’s important to point out the County Supervisors recognize the chilling impact the current permitting process has on agriculture and wineries and they took significant action to rectify the situation in the form of a two year effort crafting the Tiered Winery Ordinance and directing the EIR – but their visionary efforts were derailed by yet another lawsuit.

Economics (or not) of small wineries: Vince Vasquez and Eric Larson of the San Diego Farm Bureau explain the economics of water-wise wine grapes and small San Diego family-owned wineries in this May 15th weekly National University Impact San Diego radio public policy show “San Diego and the local wine industry!” The show can be streamed, or downloaded as a Podcast at this link .

The economics of scale that exist (well actually there are none) at a premium Boutique winery require on-site retail sales to maximize profits to sustain operations. Premium wines require tastings to appreciate their uniqueness and quality. For example, 100% of Eagles Nest 2007-2008 wines and Ports have won medals gold-silver-bronze – a total of 30 in the 2009-2010 competition year.

The overhead of an off-site tasting room for a family winery operation is untenable and cooperative tasting rooms in our area have consistently failed. Case study after case study have emphasized the importance of on-site retail and wine club sales for Boutiques – and the many years needed to achieve profitability due to the heavy capitalization of a winery. These are not high volume operations that can efficiently and amazingly produce, bottle, distribute, and sell a quaff-able daily wine for a profit at a few bucks a bottle. Many if not most wine tourists want to see the vineyards where the wines originated and meet the winemaker at the winery – this can’t be done with an urban tasting room.

For an insight into the amazing Two-Buck-Chuck story, see a post from earlier this year on this site detailing Fred Franzia’s Bronco Winery operation at this link. If you are interested in more information about Eagles Nest you can see a this week’s San Diego Reader magazine at this link.

We’ve stated in testimony at Supervisor and Planning Commission hearings (this link ) that tasting room permissions and on-site retail sales of wine are “mission critical” (in military parlance that veterans will understand) – a capability critical to achieving goals – mission success. Small wineries do not have the (immense) economies of scale that large operations have, and by-the-way 90% of wineries in California are small family operations. Boutiques cannot operate on a wholesale, retail, or restaurant basis alone particularly in the current economic malaise that exists locally and globally.

There will never be a large winery in San Diego County: Practically speaking, there will never be a “danger” of large wineries in San Diego County – the agricultural parcels are too small, the terrain too sloping, and the number of vineyards too low to sustain many wineries. The Boutiques reflected in the Tiered Winery Ordinance are by wine volume 1/100th of what would be considered a “small winery” in the industry – thus a Boutique is more a microscopic or nano-winery.

If and until until San Diego County leadership can overcome CEQA challenges, and deliver tasting rooms with retail sales permissions to small family wineries, the citizens of San Diego County will have to drive to Riverside (Temecula), Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Napa, or Sonoma counties – sadly, there will be NO wine industry here.

What you can do: San Diego County residents supporting wineries are urged to remain aware and involved politically and voice their support for legislation supporting the local wine industry. Communicate your support for the ordinance to your Supervisor contact them via this link. No problem ever got better without the participation of an educated committed constituency. Thank your Supervisors for their effort on this ordinance and offer your support for tasting rooms at local wineries!

If you are interested in more information about Eagles Nest Winery and Cottage, you can see an article on us in San Diego Reader magazine at this link. Or simply visit the many blog posts on this (public) blog.

Our Web 1.0 website is http://eaglesnestwinery.com and our private blog for customers is http://eaglesnestwinery.ning.com . We’re a leading winery on Twitter at http://twitter.com/eaglesnestwine and on Facebook at this link.



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About Author: Dennis Grimes

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