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Winery owners look for easier rules

Hoping to counter complaints that Jackson County isn't friendly toward wineries, the county planning department has proposed a set of rules that would help this growing industry.

Winery owners say the county's interpretation of state regulations restricts their ability to hold promotional events and that the county has impeded the opening of wineries.

The planning department has responded to some of these complaints by proposing land use regulations that would make it easier to promote wineries and agricultural products.

Planning commission Chairman Leon Hofford said the county should vote on the proposals this summer.

— We believe it (the wine industry) is important to the valley's growth, he said. That's why we put it ahead of other problems.

But Bob Kerizan, owner of Bridgeview Vineyard and Winery in Cave Junction, said he has invested &

36;2 million in vineyards on his 200-acre Applegate property, and he wants to open a winery but has been thwarted by the county.

Jackson County has to make a choice, he said. Either you've got to let in more wineries or tell farmers to quit investing their money because there's no place to put the grapes.

Kerizan said the lack of wineries means Jackson County produces 4,000 tons of grapes annually but has wine production capacity for only 600 tons.

In Josephine County, by comparison, a comparable number of grapes is produced but production capacity is available for about 3,000 tons, he said.

Excess grapes, which lose their value and quality the farther they are transported, often are sent to the Willamette Valley for processing.

Kerizan applied for septic approval for his Applegate property in 1999, but workers who tend the vineyards are still using portable toilets.

I could have had the place up and running in 60 days, he said. I could have been in production last year if they cooperated.

With the process dragging, Kerizan said he wants more assurance from the county that wineries are welcome.

Until I get a letter from the (county) commissioners saying they want me in there, I'm putting it on hold, said Kerizan.

Hofford said the county does want to make sure that the wine industry receives all the support it can get from local government.

However, many planning commission members are just coming up to speed on the problems facing the industry, he said.

Part of the dilemma facing wineries, he said, has been land use laws created in the 1960s and 1970s that were designed more for a pear-oriented agricultural area.

John Weisinger, a member of the Southern Oregon Wine Association and owner of Weisinger's Vineyard and Winery, said he left a recent meeting with the planning commission with the impression that the county wants to help the industry.

Many state regulations were created with larger Willamette Valley wineries in mind, he said.

The realization is there are all kinds of wineries, he said. The one-glove-fits-all approach isn't good, especially since the glove is the Willamette Valley.

More wineries should be encouraged locally, he said.

He said overproduction of grapes has led to a warning from the wine association: We are discouraging people from planting grapes because there is no place to sell them.

Weisinger said wineries also will have to be mindful of other property owners.

Many neighbors have complained about spraying, tractor work and noises that scare birds during a two- to three-week period around harvest time.

We need to strike a balance between being good neighbors and making a living, he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

Proposed revisions allow flexibility

Jackson County has proposed revisions that would make it easier to promote activities at wineries.

Wineries currently have to carefully word advertisements for events so that wine tasting is the main item featured.

A Valentine's Day celebration, concerts or musical entertainment can only be featured as a secondary event.

Wineries are also restricted in the kind of foods served ' primarily prepackaged ' and how they market their products.

Some of the new language gives wineries more flexibility in operations and how events are promoted.

Some examples of the proposed rules:

A commercial activity would be allowed if it significantly enhances the farming enterprise of the local agricultural community.

Activities may include tasting, music and art festivals, nonprofit and charitable organization fund-raisers, or other similar events where the primary purpose is to showcase and market the agricultural products produced by the farm.

Wineries could sell items directly related to wine, the sales of which are incidental to sale of wine on site. Such items include those served by a limited service restaurant.