Don't print those wedding or party invitations just yet if you're hoping to hold the event at a winery in the Oregon countryside.
A bill that would limit the number of non-wine events on farmland passed the state Senate last month and is now awaiting a vote in the House.
A proposed bill endorsed by the Oregon Winegrowers Association would limit the number of special events at wineries located in exclusive farm-use zones. If passed, the law could be extended to wineries in mixed farm-forest zones.
The bill, meant to prevent event center-like activities on farmland, would:
Allow a winery to have 18 non-wine marketing event days per year.
Allow food and wine pairings at permissible activities and special events.
Allow professional kitchen facilities for food service, subject to local health inspection.
Clarify that 75 percent of income needs to come from wine sales, not food, souvenirs and rental fees.
Affirm through a grandfather clause that new regulations do not apply to existing wineries.
Allow additional meal service for registered guests of authorized bed and breakfasts on winery properties.
The bill, SB 841, was initiated at the request of the Oregon Winegrowers Association and farmers who are concerned that vineyards are being turned into event centers instead of tasting rooms where activities are focused on selling wine made from grapes grown on the property.
If signed into law, the bill would limit a new tasting room on exclusive farm-use land to 18 weddings, concerts and facility rentals a year.
New wineries could request conditional use permits to have more non-wine events.
The regulations would not apply to legally established, ongoing activities at existing wineries.
Proposed restrictions are tighter in the Willamette Valley, where the majority of the state's 400 wineries are located.
Most Northern Oregon wineries operate on smaller tracts than in Southern Oregon, leading to higher density and traffic.
If the bill becomes law as stated, the first six event days at Willamette Valley wineries are allowed with an administrative license.
But the next 12 event days would need to be approved after the owner files a land-use permit. Neighbors or nearby wineries could appeal the decision.
The bill hopes to balance the pull to protect farmland with wineries' push to make money, says Michael Donovan of the Oregon Wine Board and the Oregon Winegrowers Association.
"Wineries need to have the right tools to be successful, but we should be farming grapes," he says, "that's why we were given the rights to operate a winery on ag land."
Tasting rooms would have no limits on the number of wine-related or wine-marketing activities.
These would include wine tastings, wine-club gatherings, winemaker meals, winery and vineyard tours, staff events and open houses, and business meetings with suppliers, distributors, wholesale customers and wine industry members.
Dan Marca, who opened his Dancin Vineyards outside of Jacksonville a year ago, says the bill would not impact his operation.
"Our events are not an integral part of our business," he says. "We are all about showcasing the wines that we produce in a unique, relaxed setting among the vines, as well as sharing the beauty and diversity of the Rogue Valley growing region."
He declined a request from a wine-club member to rent his faculty for a wedding with 175 guests.
"That's not what we do," says Marca.
Scott Steingraber, the owner of Kriselle Cellars who opened a tasting room last year in White City, says he is torn about the bill.
He approved the legislation as a member of the Southern Oregon Winery Association.
"I believe that the Oregon Winegrowers Association did a very good job in determining this current position," he says.
But, he adds, "as a business owner, I do not believe it is in the best interest of the state or the wineries in Southern Oregon to reduce and limit private events." He says most of the state's wineries are small businesses with narrow profit margins and holding private events adds to the bottom line.
"These provide additional tax revenues and create jobs that are important to our economy," he says. "By limiting the number of events, the proposed law will take away a bit of the ability for small wineries to continue to contribute to a healthy wine industry."
At Kriselle Cellars, he says the focus is on sales and promotion of wine. But he also receives requests from customers, neighbors and colleagues to have private receptions, retirement parties and business meetings.
"Some of our customers will walk away disappointed due to the additional regulation," he says.
At the new Belle Fiore Estate and Winery in Ashland, a 19,000-square-foot chateau was built to be used as a private residence and public space for wine events and weddings.
Below the chateau is a 20,000-square-foot winery with a ground-floor tasting room and upstairs ballroom.
According to the website, www.bellefiorewine.com, the 52-acre property off Dead Indian Memorial Road can accommodate wedding parties and private events for 200 people.
The proposed law allows for local governments to approve events beyond the 18 permitted.
Steingraber hopes that Jackson County officials are prepared for additional requests for permitted use and don't place burdens on the wineries.
At a Rogue Valley Winegrowers Association meeting in January, Patrick Flannery of the year-old Dana Campbell Vineyards in Ashland heard that neighbor complaints to county officials could trigger an investigation into the number of non-wine events.
Flannery and his wife, Paula Brown, planted grapes in 2006 and opened a tasting room on their 32-acre property last year.
Although they do not plan to have non-wine events or elaborate food service, he says he and Brown have operated under the old rule of keeping neighbors happy.
"Now we would have to fill out a form," he says.
Donovan is hopeful that the bill will pass in the House and finally clarify limits on land use, special events, food service and non-wine sales.
"I have my fingers crossed," says Donovan, who is also the national sales director for RoxyAnn Winery in Medford. "The winery associations have worked together to develop a balanced approach to farming."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email@example.com.