NEWS / FEATURES

Bill Supports Wineries

 

By Hannah Hoffman

Oregon vineyards would be allowed more latitude to host events and sell merchandise for the next three years under Senate Bill 1055, passed during February’s special session.

However, the relaxed rules would not extend to farm-associated produce stands, which have also sought greater latitude. Farm stands would remain conditional rather than directly permitted uses.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, passed easily in the Senate Feb. 16, with 28 of 30 senators voting in favor. Two days later, it moved to the House Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Communities, where a 2013 sunset date was added.

It passed with strong support in the House of Representatives Feb. 23.

The bill maintains the existing limit on direct sale of wine through tasting rooms, holding it to no more than 25 percent of a vineyard’s gross annual revenue. 

But it loosens restrictions on events where wine is served, such as dinners, concerts, weddings, charity auctions or political fundraisers. It also opens the door for a vineyard to sell off-site wares, including outside wines, catered foods and gift and craft items.

The bill doesn’t make much difference in wine-oriented Yamhill County, which already allows a wide range of such uses. However, it is bound to have an impact in counties like Winters’ Marion, which has taken a much harder line.

Yamhill County Planner Mike Brandt noted it allows people to rent wineries, but still doesn’t let the facilities have an in-house kitchen.

Vineyards will still have to comply with health, safety, traffic, fire and building code provisions, just as bars, taverns and restaurants do. 

Some think SB 1055 is fundamentally flawed. Willamette Valley Wineries Association spokesman Rob Stuart called the bill “crudely crafted,” and said he agrees with its goals but not its permissive treatment of the wine industry. 

The bill does not have the support of all Oregon’s agricultural sector, Stuart said, and consensus should be key to constructing such a bill. There needs to be a level playing field for farms and wineries, he said, adding he doesn’t see parity in the bill.

Ann Hanus of the Oregon Association of Counties, which decided not to take a position on the legislation, said the larger issue is what kinds of commercial activity should and should not be allowed in exclusive farm use zones, an issue of keen interest to agricultural organizations like the Oregon Farm Bureau, as well as environmental and business groups.

Hanus said pumpkin patches, country weddings, music festivals and similar events are constantly begin staged or proposed on EFU land, and counties don’t know where to draw the line. The 2013 sunset will require industry leaders to revisit the issue and possibly come up with a more thorough decision.

“We need to take a look at the larger picture and see,” she said. “What do we need to do to address those conflicts?”

Hannah Hoffman is a reporter for the News-Register in McMinnville.

 

 

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