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Wineries, neighbors both have concerns

Southern Oregon’s wine industry is getting noticed, in a good way, as wine enthusiasts visit here and judges evaluate entries at the annual Oregon Wine Experience now in progress in the valley. A story in Wednesday’s Mail Tribune featured a returning wine judge who took note of the improving quality and increasing refinement of the region’s wines.

That’s good news for the industry, and for the rest of the local economy that benefits from wine tourism. But wine alone is not enough to sustain vineyards and wineries all year long, especially smaller ones.

On the same page in Wednesday’s paper was a story about a local vineyard that has changed hands and the new owners’ plans to host events such as weddings and corporate gatherings. Those plans have run into opposition from at least one neighbor but support from others and from fellow winery operators.

Rellik Winery is the new name of Caprice Vineyards, which has operated for nine years on Old Stage Road just north of Jacksonville. The former co-owner says he hosted charity fundraisers and corporate events with food and music and up to 150 people with no complaints from nearby property owners.

But the new owners are encountering some resistance to their plans to continue holding events there, and Jackson County planning staff issued a preliminary denial of the four partners’ proposal, saying it had moved beyond what Caprice had done on the property in the past.

A Jackson County hearings officer has asked for more details about what is planned, and will likely issue a decision in October.

Wineries can find themselves caught in a bind between the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which requires them to offer food along with the wine they serve in their tasting rooms, and a state law governing wineries on exclusive farm use land that says they may have on-site kitchens and host events but may not operate full-fledged restaurants catering to the general public.

Winery operators say they can’t survive just on the sales of wine through their tasting rooms, and hosting events helps them make ends meet.

Neighbors have a say in all this, too. Noise and increased traffic can cause friction, and those concerns are valid as well.

State law gives counties considerable leeway in what restrictions they impose on wineries. County officials should carefully balance the competing interests, with an eye to encouraging the wine industry without impinging too much on neighbors’ peace and quiet. If the rules are too confusing, county commissioners should consider clarifying what is and is not allowed under county land-use rules.