Please leave us (wineries & wine tourists) be! Proposed SDCo Tiered Winery Ordinance Changes

Challenge: Sharing a complex local government regulatory issue that impacts local rural wineries and the San Diego wine-loving public.

Additional Challenge:  There’s little humor here and it is not a “happy” wine-lover/winery story… but it is a story that needs to be told.

Please read below short vignettes, and if you’re concerned enough (and if you love wine – we hope you are…) please call, e-mail, fax, or write your County Supervisors and their Chiefs-of-Staff, and SDCo Staff, and voice your support and concern for your local wineries… Their contact information is listed below for your convenience. Thank you!

Remember – Nothing will get better if you don’t get personally involved, and you(we) risk losing our local San Diego County wine industry if the proposed restrictions are allowed to be implemented.

Oh yes – and if you do nothing, start saving your money now – for fuel to drive to Temecula, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, (or other) wine regions – because your San Diego wineries will surely die.  

OK so again – how do you share a complex regulatory and land-use story with the wine-loving public?

Let’s try sharing some reasonable situations/questions relating to a crisis/threat facing local rural wineries, and San Diego County tasting room guests:

Winery: I’m sorry, you’ll have to wait 30-40 minutes until some space opens up at the tasting bar…   Our outdoor(or indoor) tasting area is restricted in size by the County and is full, our apologies. [County proposal to further restrict indoor/outdoor tasting areas prevents a winery from accommodating a reasonable number of wine guests]

Winery: We’re sorry – our Sauvignon Blanc/(fill in the blank wine) is sold out for the season – Please come back next year. [Out-of-product due to limited local vineyards/wine grape supply availability, or a bad growing season - remember it is farming and harvest is only once-a-year]

Winery: I’m so sorry we have no Gold Medal Picpoul Blanc Port-styled dessert wine for sale this year -  disease in the vineyards destroyed that crop last year – please come back next year – we hoping for good weather and a good harvest. [Bad growing season eliminates a wine grape harvest, can't buy replacement wine elsewhere]

Winery: We’re sorry that fantastic Bordeaux-styled Cabernet Sauvignon we were expecting to bottle this month was lost in a barrel accident – it dropped from our forklift and the barrel broke and the wine was lost/spilled. [Winery forklift incident requires wine replacement]

Winery: We’re sorry that delicious AVA blend we were counting on to bottle for you had a bacteria induced wine making flaw that could not be corrected/reversed. We had to destroy the wine and write it off as a loss. [Wine making problem requires wine replacement]

Winery: I’m so sorry we no longer have, nor can we make – any more of our Gold Medal Viognier Port-Styled Dessert Wine. Unlike other wine regions in California, in SDCo we are no longer allowed to import the brandy required to fortify/make this delicious product. [County would prohibit import of Brandy required to make fortified Port-styled dessert wines]

Winery: No – we get this request every day – we’re sorry we cannot offer you that delightful sparkling wine. The equipment required to make Sparkling Wine is prohibitively expensive and very specialized. Unlike other wine regions in California, in SDCo we cannot bring in custom product from a specially equipped winery to meet your requests. Again, our sincere apologies. [Sparkling Wine/ Champagne not available locally, County would prohibit import]

Winery: This is a nice red blend. The growing season two years ago was cool and not  warm enough to fully ripen the fruit. That’s reflected in the muted fruit character and lower alcohol of this wine. This wine could have really benefited from blending –  if we had access to some other key blending varietals to improve the complexity, color, nose, and fruit character. The County prohibits the common wine industry practice of importing blending wines, or even sales between local wineries to provide quality blending products. Under these restrictions and local rules, we do the best we can for you, and also with what the growing season gives us. [Sub-par grape vintage/ growing year, County would prohibit/limit wine/grape import]

Winery: (1) No, we don’t have any white wines, the climate/terroir of our vineyards are too warm to grow quality white wines. [County would prohibit/limit wine/grape import]

– or –  

(2) No, we don’t have any red wines, the climate/terroir of our vineyards is too cool to grow/ripen quality red wines. [County would prohibit/limit wine/grape import]

Winery: (1)  We’re sorry, we can only seat you inside despite the beautiful weather and view, our tasting area is restricted in size by the County and we cannot accommodate that request, our apologies. [County proposal to further restrict indoor/outdoor tasting areas prevents a winery from accommodate a reasonable number of wine guests]

– or –

(2) We’re sorry, we can only seat you outside despite the wind and the rain, our tasting area is restricted in size by the County and we cannot accommodate that request, our apologies. [County proposal to further restrict indoor/outdoor tasting areas prevents a winery from accommodating a reasonable number of wine tasting guests]

And finally…

Winery Website / Phone Message: To our loyal customers – we’re sorry (fill in the blank) Winery is no longer in business. New County restrictions and the cost of commercial building code retrofits to our family winery facilities were unaffordable. We thank you for your past business and loyalty. [Costly, game-changing rules and regulations make existing businesses and their business plans non-viable for non-grandfathered wineries]

After ~three years, San Diego County Staff began pursuing changes to the (somewhat) enabling 2010 Tiered Winery Ordinance (we’ll call it the “TWO” for brevity hereafter). After years of development, a costly enabling Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and over two years of legal challenges and appeals, the TWO stood only to have premature changes proposed. Prior to the TWO it cost wineries ~$250,000 for a tasting room permit (Major Use Permit,  in parlance). You can read the sordid details of those years-long government “sausage-making” efforts elsewhere on this blog.

To be fair to local regulators, a few private parties were the initial proponents of these damaging and unnecessary changes to the TWO.

That ordinance is for-the-most-part “working” or at least tolerable for wineries and wine guests, however these proponents of change are advocating many new restrictions that would harm non-urban wineries. Urban wineries are regulated by the cities they are located in. Most cities are supportive of their business and encourage their success. Rural wineries in unincorporated are subject to restrictive County control.  

The proposed new limitations impact a wide range of winery operations including the following:  1) tasting area limitations that diminish the quality of a tasting guest’s experience, 2) further building use and size limitations that cramp winery operations and equipment storage space, 3) limit Federal and State permissions on the import of grapes, juice, blending wines, and brandy spirits necessary for port-styled dessert wines, 4) mandates costly retroactive commercial building code standards compliance, 5) further limits activities beyond the already prohibited weddings and parties thereby interfering with legitimate agritourism efforts, and 6) a prohibition of inter-winery transfer of wine products even within the County of San Diego, eliminating shared processing of winegrapes and commerce between wineries. You can read of these proposed changes to the TWO at this URL  – But don’t feel bad if it doesn’t make sense to you, that’s the whole point here.

Councilman Jerome Kern of Oceanside shared some sage advice with SDCo staffers at a January 2014 workshop on the proposed changes to the TWO. This is Councilman Kern’s URL.

Councilman Kern first stated that it was necessary for government regulatory officials to thoroughly understand the needs of businesses it sought to regulate so that government regulations “do businesses no harm.”

Secondarily, Councilman Kern stated that Oceanside does not change its city ordinances within ten years of implementation, they noting what is working well, and what needs improvement, but wait until the ten-year point to make changes if needed. He noted the TWO had been in place approximately three years and should not be changed at this point.

All but a less-than-a-handful of speakers at that County workshop strongly advocated for NO CHANGES to the existing TWO. You can listen to the audio of that workshop at this URL (requires Microsoft Starlight free download)

There is a good article (‘Cleanup’ language irks many vintners) on the TWO workshop by Karen Brainard of the Ramona Sentinel at this URL

This 22 March 2014 article on the Texas State wine industry (What you need to know about the Texas wine industry) at this URL offers excellent insight into the challenges wineries and vineyards face in growing and sourcing wine grapes and wines. Please consider it when reviewing the above vignettes.

A study of Prohibition (18th Amendment to the Constitution) and its repeal (21st Amendment) is a fascinating historical lesson. These Amendments laid the foundation for a confusing patchwork Federal, State, and Local government regulations governing the production, distribution, sales and shipping, and in some cases the consumption of beer, wine, and spirits that existing today in the United States.

In the case of California wineries, the proposed County restrictions on juice, wine, and distilled grape spirits transfer are totally legal and allowed under Federal (Tax and Trade Bureau, (TTB)) and State Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Commission licensing laws. And again, these practices are consistent with California and national wine industry practices. These practices allow wineries to provided an assured, quality, and consist supply of wine products to their guests, the local retail, and the restaurant industry. These permissions specifically include the right to bring in fruit, blending wines, and juice, to mitigate less-than-optimum vintages/harvests, and also distilled brandy necessary for the creation and fortification of Port-Styled Dessert Wines.

The TWO is a County-wide ordinance impacting all non-urban wineries in San Diego County. The appropriate government venue for your voice/position is your San Diego County Supervisor, and or their Chief of Staff. For the district maps please see this URL

Supervisor Greg Cox, District 1

Ph (619) 531-5511, Fax (619) 235-0644

Chief of Staff – Pamela O’Neil

Supervisor Dianne Jacob, District 2 (Current Chair)

Ph (619) 531-5522, Fax (619) 696-7253

Chief of Staff – Jeff Collins

Supervisor Dave Roberts, District 3

Ph (619) 531-5533, Fax (619) 234-1559,

Chief of Staff John Weil

Supervisor Ron Roberts, District 4

Ph (619) 531-5544, Fax (619) 531-6262

Chief of Staff Sal Giametta

Supervisor Bill Horn, District 5 (Current Vice Chair) 

Ph (619) 531-5555, Fax (619) 685-2662

Chief of Staff Dustin Steiner

San Diego County Planning Staff

The SDCo County staff lead on the proposed TWO Ordinance changes is Mr. Joseph Farace, Planning Manager, County Planning and Development Services (PDS) office. Mr. Matt Schneider is the Project Manager. Please communicate your thoughts and concerns to them..

Joe Farace (858) 694-3690

Matt Schneider (858) 694-3714

Closing thought

In the case of regulating San Diego County the Tiered Winery Ordinance represented the culmination of years of effort. The existing ordinance is far from perfect, and many wineries feel it is overly restrictive, but have been able to work within its restrictions. The proposed further restrictions however will prove to be fatal to existing and future wineries. 99% of County wineries and winery organizations support a “No change” position in the Tiered Winery Ordinance and not adopting any of the proposed changes. Councilman Kern’s admonitions to understand the needs  of business and “do them no harm, and also “make no changes to ordinances within ten years” ring true.

Please communicate with your supervisors and County staff and recommend then leave wineries be – and make No Changes to the 2010 winery ordinance.

Let’s encourage an enabling government role – and not business-killing regulations and mandates. This County and related businesses including restaurant and antique shops are already benefiting from increased wine tourism. Let’s keep this positive opportunity in place.

As Thomas Jefferson communicates below, we do not need any more government protections/restrictions, we need the freedom to achieve success.

“I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

Thomas Jefferson





Share This Post

About Author: Dennis Grimes

Leave a Reply