To the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors:
I write to you in support of the formation of a task force to advise in the crafting and revising of the Santa Barbara County Winery Ordinance, and to volunteer my time and energy towards such an effort. If I could tell you my story, I think it relates to what is and has happened here in Santa Barbara.
I was born in the restaurant business as my family has the Hitching Post, Casmalia since 1952. I became enamored with making and serving wine with our food in the early 80’s, when the modern wine culture started here in Santa Barbara. We have been very successful in growing our wine brand, as we have the perfect venue to offer our wines with our food, Customers receive a unique and compelling dining experience, and go home (and return) as loyalists to our brand.
Over the years we have made wine at other wineries, and at Central Coast Wine Services and Terravant Wine Company (both located in incorporated areas). We always wanted to have a winery in a rural area (I own a small parcel on Foxen Canyon Road outside of Sisquoc, and one west of Buellton). As an independent local winemaker with access to high quality Santa Barbara grapes (half of which are still exported out of Santa Barbara County), I didn’t see the need to plant a vineyard in order to have a rural winery. The County has always seen this differently.
So today we look at a situation where we have 200 wineries in the county, with only 1/3 of them in rural areas, and 2/3 located in urban areas. I will suggest that this is due in part to a very strict winery ordinance, and a general unwelcoming attitude towards wineries by the County of Santa Barbara.
Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north in San Luis Obispo, have over 400 wineries located across their county, thanks to a more inclusive, less restrictive winery ordinance. This has given them an ability to offer a more compelling rural winery-vineyard experience that has facilitated agri-tourism at a level that is double what we have here in Santa Barbara County.
Sustainable agri-tourism is essential to the health of our economy. With sophisticated competition around the world, we are and will continue to fight for our share of tourism that is so helpful to all aspects of our economy.
The new ordinance as currently drafted is flawed in many ways, but I will just focus upon one purpose as stated: Ensure that the scale of the winery operation is clearly secondary, subordinate, and incidental to the primary agricultural uses of the property on which the winery is locate.
I’d like to repeat what I stated to you on Nov. 1: “Grapes won’t be grown unless you can make them into wine, and wine won’t be made unless you can sell it.”
All these actions are linked together. To suggest that the making of wine and a facility to accomplish this is incidental and secondary to the growing of grapes is seriously and fundamentally flawed. If the purpose and intent of this ordinance is flawed, I submit that the ordinance is flawed.
I’d like to touch upon a widely held worldly perspective that the wine business is actually a highly respected, historically appreciated, cultural institution that potentially can be a very stable, long term, low impact agricultural activity and a good neighbor. If we plan correctly, this can be an integral and important part of our long term vision for the future of Santa Barbara County.
Please give us a chance to work together as a task force to create a rational winery ordinance that provides an environment where our wine culture can flourish, and our local economy can be sustained.
Hitching Post Restaurant and Winery
Interesting stories from Santa Barbara Wine County.