California wine region passes moratorium on parties at wineries

Published September 11, 2013


Rather than downing bottles, California vineyards will now focus strictly on filling bottles if the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors has anything to do with it.

Yesterday, in a three to one vote, the San Joaquin County Planning Commission, which governs California’s burgeoning Lodi wine region, voted in favor of putting in place a 12-month moratorium on permitting parties at wineries in the county’s rural area, according to Fox40.

“I won’t support anything doesn’t have a moratorium in place, not for wineries, and not for expansion of existing wineries, but its event center component,” San Joaquin County Supervisor Steve Bestolarides told the planning commission on Tuesday.

The ordinance gets to the heart of a debate that pits purist vineyards focused on agricultural heritage against a booming social enterprise.

In recent years, Lodi and Acampo wineries have expanded their businesses to include what they call “marketing events,” fundraisers, parties, weddings and concerts that staunch supporters of the moratorium say take the focus away from the craft of winemaking, say Fox40.

Bruce Fry, president of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau and vice president of operations for Lodi-based Mohr-Fry Ranches, said the moratorium would help separate the region’s real vintners from the posers.  

"It carves out people who are serious about what they are doing from the people whose businesses are on the event side,” Fry told the Central Valley Business Times. “This growth we've had is a good thing. If we have more event centers and the public starts complaining about it, it will hurt us. We need to solve it ourselves as agriculturalists, growers and winery owners."

Last year, when the moratorium came under consideration, a total of 26 of the 58 approved wineries in San Joaquin County had marketing plans that included the contested “marketing events.”

Layne Montgomery, owner of M2 Winery, said the moratorium would negatively impact his business, along with many others in the region.

“I don’t know how to process all this,” Montgomery told the Central Valley Business Times. “I understand the angst and the conflict between preserving agricultural and history versus commercialization. A lot of it is NIMBY -- not in my back yard.”

According to Nancy Beckman, president and CEO of Visit Lodi!, the wine tourist industry brings in about $400 million annually to Lodi. That figure is dependent on the two million wine tourists who visit San Joaquin County annually and marketing events at local vineyards help bring revenue to the entire region, Beckman told the Central Valley Business Times.

While the three to one vote passed the moratorium, it did not put the moratorium in place. The board will vote on final approval for the ban at a later date, Assistant County Counsel Mark Myles told   If it passes, the moratorium will last as long as it takes staff to update the county’s winery ordinance.

See more here from Fox40.