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Wineries don’t need to be event centers

In response to your Aug. 9 editorial regarding concerns of wineries events and neighbors, you state wineries “can’t survive just on the sale of wine through their tasting rooms, and hosting events helps them make ends meet,” and “wine alone is not enough to sustain vineyards and wineries all year long, especially smaller ones.” That opinion is not only simplistic, but ignores the decades-long process of protecting farmland that began with Oregon’s landmark Senate Bill 100, which created statewide protections for farmland in 1973 and again in 1977 with the passage of ORS 215 that established what activities can be conducted by wineries in an Exclusive Farm Use Zone.

In 2013, with the support of every regional winery association in Oregon, Senate Bill 841 was unanimously passed to clarify the activities that wineries with at least 15 acres of vineyard may conduct on farmland. It allowed for “unlimited marketing events”, such as wine tours, winemaker dinners, wine tastings and the sale of incidental merchandise related to the promotion of their wines. However, “non-marketing” events like weddings, facility rentals, yoga classes and concerts were limited to 18 events annually.

The editorial claimed wineries are “caught in a bind between the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which requires them to offer food along with wine they serve in their tasting rooms.” The OLCC has stated there is no requirement for food service at wineries on farmland, but SB 841 does allow on-site kitchens to serve food pairings with wine. However, wineries are expressly prohibited from offering menu options that cause them to function as a restaurant open to the public. Wineries are not in a bind — they simply have to follow the law!

Unmentioned was that a winery’s revenue from “non-marketing” events such as weddings, yoga classes, meditation sessions, concerts, facility rentals, food and merchandise cannot exceed 25 percent of the winery’s total on-site wine sales annually. This limitation was adopted with the consensus of the entire Oregon wine industry; including those in the Rogue Valley. If a winery cannot sustain itself on

75 percent on-site sales of wine and 25 percent non-wine sales; then their business model is not sustainable under Oregon land-use laws.

Wineries who complain the only way to stay in business is to be granted additional commercial privileges are creating a slippery slope for other agribusinesses to ask for commercial events on their farmland. Why wouldn’t pear orchards, lavender farms and even cannabis growers ask for the privilege to bring commercial activity onto their land zoned for exclusive

farm use?

Most wineries have a sound business plan focused on growing premium grapes and making exceptional wine and we celebrate their success in bringing customers to their tasting rooms without adding more commercial activity on farmland. However, the few who are intent on running an event center or restaurant risk becoming a faux winery, whose primary purpose is not the production of wine in conjunction with farm use, but creating an urban business that congests our country roads and is prohibited on farmland.

Steve Sacks is a longtime valley resident, restaurant operator, the owner of a small cider apple orchard and neighbor of two wineries. Tom Beam is the owner Pie & Vine and Sesame restaurants and a vineyard owner. Crissy Barnett Donovan is founder and Owner of Peerless Hotel and Restaurant.