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Wine Legislation Brings Changes

POLK COUNTY -- The Oregon legislature passed a bill clarifying what sort of activities can happen at wineries across the state during the recently completed legislative session.

POLK COUNTY -- The Oregon legislature passed a bill clarifying what sort of activities can happen at wineries across the state during the recently completed legislative session.

Those land-use changes may be just the beginning.

State Rep. Jim Thompson (R-Dallas) said the revisions, packaged in House Bill 3280, are part of much-needed land-use changes on wineries located on land zoned "exclusive farm use." Further work will be necessary, he said.

"It's a process that is at its beginning, not one at its end," Thompson said. "We've addressed a number of issues. Hopefully, we've got it right and didn't cause too many problems."

The bill was meant to balance the need for further growth in the winemaking industry, but also ensuring the activities happening at wineries -- such as tastings, tours, live music and food service -- were appropriate for their location.

Statutes regarding Oregon's wineries were written in 1989, when the state's wine industry was in its infancy.

Original statutes have been outdated for years, as wineries have grown in size and production capability. Wineries have also responded to the wine tourism boom, hosting tastings, tours and live music, opening restaurants and cafes, and even venturing into facility rentals.

The bill clarifies what of those events are permitted outright and those subject to restrictions.

"I think it was a needed bill, even though it might have been scary for wineries because there were a lot of gray areas in the statutes," said Luke McCollom, the winemaker for Left Coast Cellars who was involved in writing early drafts of the legislation.

The bill maintains two wineries size classifications in the original statutes -- 15 planted acres producing 50,000 gallons or less and 40 planted acres with unlimited production -- and adds a "large" winery tier. Large wineries must be located on at least an 80-acre tract with at least 50 acres planted on site and at least another 80 acres located off the main winery site.

Within those three tiers, the legislation outlined permitted uses. All wineries, regardless of size, may market and sell wine, conduct tastings and tours, sell wine-related items, host wine club gatherings and other activities directly related to marketing wine.

Wineries can hold up to 25 days of events not related to marketing of wine, such as weddings, facility rentals or live concerts. Those wanting to do more events will have to apply for a permit.

In addition, wineries in the large winery tier would be allowed to run a full-service restaurant on site, but would have to have a permit to operate more than 25 days per year.

All activities varying from the new statutes currently happening, including restaurants, would be allowed to continue. Some parts, including those regarding restaurants and food service, sunset at the end of 2013, making more revisions necessary.

Sam Tannahill, the president of the Oregon Winemakers Association and founder of A to Z Wineworks and Rex Hill Vineyards, said the legislation provides a base for further refining of land-use regulations.

"It was a good process," he said. "I think we learned a lot."

While he said much work is still needed, Tannahill believes the bill strikes a good balance between fostering more growth and making sure the industry's focus remains on growing grapes.

"The primary purpose of having vineyards in (exclusive farm use land) is to make wine," he said.

McCollom agrees. Left Coast has a small cafe, which he said is intended to showcase the winery's creations.

"The food is just the complement to the wine," he said. "That's how it should be."

McCollom added that he believes the legislation adequately protects one of the state's best assets: its open space.

"Land conservation, protecting agriculture and the beauty of Oregon, that is extremely important and I think it's important to every farmer," McCollom said.

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