In 2006, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors began the process of developing a tiered ordinance that would give boutique wineries the option of having a tasting room without the cost prohibitive burden of a major use permit. After being challenged by neighbors who believed that the ordinance would negatively impact the private roads they shared with the wineries, the original ordinance had to be rescinded and redrafted to include a provision that easements would be worked out between the neighbors and the wineries. The current ordinance was then unanimously approved with a 5-0 vote by the supervisors in 2010, and consists of four tiers: wholesale, boutique, small winery with an administrative permit, and a winery with a major use permit.
Boutique wineries, which are limited to producing 12,000 gallons annually (approximately 5,000 cases), may operate a tasting/retail sales room in addition to the boutique winery itself. These tasting/retail sales rooms are restricted to the agricultural zones A70 and A72 and tasting room hours are limited from 10:00 a.m. to sunset seven days a week. No amplified music or bus tours are allowed, and other limitations include a restricted number of parking spaces and outdoor eating area limitations of five tables and no more than 20 people. Additionally, 75 percent of the total fruit must be grown in San Diego County, a minimum of 25 percent of the fruit must be grown on the premises, and a maximum of 25 percent may be grown outside San Diego County. Overall, many of the boutique winery owners have been happy with the current ordinance and claim that it has produced economic growth in the region.
Now, four years after its adoption, the ordinance has been redlined with proposed amendments. Notable proposed amendments include not allowing any wine grown off-site to be sold on the premises; a strict maintenance of records detailing how much fruit was grown onsite and in San Diego County; a requirement that those records be provided to the County within three days upon request; limiting the floor area of the production facility based on acreage; allowing catered food, so long as it is not be prepared onsite, unless it is allowed as part of a single family home Cottage Foods Operation; and a narrowed definition of “event,” which is generally not permitted on site. Proponents of the amendments argue that the language in the current ordinance is ambiguous and in need of clarification to resolve discrepancies. They also claim that the intent of the ordinance is to promote farms and grape production, which is accomplished by setting tighter requirements on the areas where the fruit is grown.
Many local wineries have weighed in against the proposed amendments, claiming that the restrictions placed on the fruit grown off-site puts wineries that are just starting up, or having trouble with meeting demand, at a disadvantage. Other arguments against the amendment center on the “event” definition being so narrow that it restricts it to virtual non-existence where customers would not be allowed to have a small gathering such as a birthday party. Strong arguments against the restriction on catered food not being allowed if it is prepared onsite eliminates such things as food trucks, which have played a large role in the development of craft breweries in San Diego. Moreover, correlations have been drawn between the effects of alcohol consumption to the effects of alcohol consumption when food is also served. Lastly, the opponents of the amendments argue that it took four years of litigation before the current ordinance was approved, and that it would be likely that the proposed amendments would bring a whole new set of litigation, which would be costly and counterproductive.