Saturday, December 18, 2010

ABC Minor Decoy Grants Are Back On The Central Coast

"The California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) today announced that it has been awarded a $500,000 Minor Decoy and Shoulder Tap Grant to combat underage drinking in California. "  What does this mean for Central Coast Wineries? Well, according the the imbiblog ( this money will be awarded to local law enforcement and the stings will begin to occur starting February 1, 2011.  That gives all employers the month of January to make sure that their employees have adequate training to spote minors and decoys.

Instructional Tasting Licenses

Effective January 1, 2011, off-sale retail licenses will be able to apply for a type 86 Instructional Tasitng License from the California Alcoholic Beverage Commission.  This will allow the instructional tasting of alcoholic beverages by certain suppliers on premises.  The tastings will still need to be conducted by a qualified supplier in a manner similar to those presently permitted for consumer instruction.  More information can be found about these licenses in the recent ABC advisory.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board Ag Order

The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has proposed a new ag order.  The key aspect of this new order is that it will do away with or limit waivers and group monitoring in favor of individual monitoring. Along with this, comes a confusing leveled of tiered monitoring that will attempt to place the most stringent monitoring restrictions on the largest and most problematic water users.  None of  this is sitting well with the agricultural community.
Ag Working Group, led by the California Farm Bureau Federation is proposing its own Ag Order in an effort to create a less onerous system.  Numerous members of the agricultural community have expressed concerns over the lack of input that they have had so far and that the RWQCB does not understand their issues.
For now, the waiver program which has been in place for the past few years has been continued. However, it is apparent that some level of additional regulation will be placed upon central coast irragators.

Winery and Vineyard Land Use Issues

Land Use: Land Use: the pattern of construction and activity permitted on ones land. California land use laws divide the state into a patchwork of zones; commercial, residential, industrial and agricultural zones. Each of these zones has its own set of differing rules and regulations with regard to permissible land uses. Wineries and vineyards are frequently located in agricultural zones sometimes referred to as the AG Preserve. Additionally, along the Central Coast, wineries and tasting rooms may be located in commercial or industrial zones. The ability to sight a winery or vineyard on your property will defer depending upon the zone in which it is located.

Issues Surrounding Land Use Regulations

• Can I plant a vineyard?

• Can I site my winery on this property?

• Can I build one or more homes?

• Can I have a tasting room or do onsite sales?

• Can I host events such as weddings?

• Is the property under a Williamson Act Contract?

• Do I have adequate access or easements to my property?

• Do I need permits to build structures or roads?

• How many Certificates of Compliance (CC) does my property have?

• Can I divide my property?

• What is the process to obtain another CC for my property?

Critical Land Use Issues

1. Three Tiered Permitting for Wineries, Tasting Rooms and Events

Wineries are permitted in the Agricultural zones of Santa Barbara County. Since July of 2004, the permit process for the siting of wineries has been streamlined. This process has become know as the Three Tiered Process. This is because it divides wineries into three tiers or categories based upon their size. For the first two tiers of facilities, owners are no longer required to go in front of the planning commission.

Tier I Winery: For a Tier I winery, the county staff is directed to give a permit to wineries that have no tasting rooms and produce fewer than 20,000 cases of wine in less than 20,000 square feet of building space. Wineries within this category are eligible to hold four special events with up to 150 attendees. However, wineries within all of these tiers are still regulated by the planning and development land use plan requirements. These require the obtaining of a Land Use Permit prior to building a winery. Further, the issue of compliance with any overlying Uniform Rules for Agricultural Preserves will be addressed below.

Tier II Winery: A Tier II winery is a winery producing between 20,000 and 50,000 cases. Tier II wineries must apply to the county zoning administrator for a permit, as well as obtaining the same Land Use Permit and complying with applicable Agricultural Preserve rules. This permit will allow for 8 special events per year and a tasting room of up to 400 square feet or within an area of the winery structure that is no more than 10% of the winery structure.

Tier III Winery: A Tier III winery produces more than 50,000 cases per year. Tier III wineries must submit a development plan to the Planning Commission. A tasting room may be included. These wineries would be allowed to hold 12 events with up to 200 people. They can seek conditional use permits for up to 40 events per year. Note that they are only eligible and not entitled.

2. On-Site & Internet Sales in Santa Barbara County

Sales of wine produced at the winery or by the winery owner are allowed in the tasting rooms. Further, the sale of souvenirs, clothing bearing the wineries logo and other wine related products are allowed. Along with the sale of wine over the internet, these on site sales of winery products can be some of the most profitable, because they remove the middle man between the winery and the consumer.

The Supreme Court recently decided the case of Granholm v. Heald. In this decision, the Court struck down the laws of the states of Michigan and New York, due to their restrictions on the direct sale of wine by out of state producers. While this landmark decision bodes well for winemakers hoping to sell directly to all states, it does not remove the ability of individual states to regulate the direct sale of wine. Adequate and up to date analysis of each states regulations are required, prior to attempting to ship wine directly to purchasers in other states. This can often be found on the website for the Wine Institute.

3. Williamson Act Contracts

In order to reduce taxes upon their lands, many owners of agriculturally zoned lands enter into land conservation contracts regulated by state legislation named the Williamson Act. These contracts require that the lands use be compatible with its agricultural surroundings and limit the development of the land under the Uniform Rules for Agricultural Preserves. If a property is under a Williamson Act Contract, it will subject to the Agricultural Preserve Rules, as well as the agricultural zoning rules.

4. Dwellings under the Santa Barbara County Agricultural Preserve Rules

Although a few vineyards may be located within incorporated cities, most are located in the unincorporated county areas. Because these areas are also predominantly agricultural lands, the land is often under an agricultural preserve contract or Williamson Act Contract. The siting of dwellings on land covered by an agricultural preserve contract is subject to a host of limitations.

A principal dwelling is the primary inhabited structure and may generally be built upon the land. However, the dwelling, the access roads and any landscaping may not occupy more than 2 acres or, if smaller, 3% of the property. These 2 acres are also considered the building envelope.

In lots bigger than 40 acres, a residential agricultural unit may be allowed. While a residential agricultural unit may not be sold, it can consist of another free standing structure used for rental income or housing of family or employees. On some properties of more than 100 acres, this unit may be placed outside of the building envelope.

Owners are permitted to build agricultural employee housing. This is subject to the issuance of a land use permit or conditional use permit. Further, the owner must affirm that the housing will be occupied by agricultural employees, and must be removed or converted to another permitted use, if it is not used to house agricultural employees.

5. Governing Entities

Santa Barbara County Planning and Development:

South Coast North County

123 East Anapamu St. 624 W. Foster Rd.

Santa Barbara, CA 93101 Santa Maria, CA 93455

Phone: (805) 568-2000 Phone: (805) 934-6250

Valley Plan Advisory Committee:

Santa Barbara County Supervisors:

Board of Architectural Review: 123 East Anapuma St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Phone (805) 568-2000 or 934-6250

Planning Commission: Cintia Mendoza, Board Assistant Supervisor

(805) 568-2058

California State Regional Water Quality Control Board: (805) 549-3147

Army Corp of Engineers: (805) 641-1127

CA Department of Fish & Game: (310) 590-5132

Public Works: Roads Division

123 E. Anapamu Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. (805) 568-3030.

Public Works: Flood Control, (805) 568-3440.

Environmental Health Services: 120 Cremona Drive, Suite C, Goleta, CA 93117. (805) 681-4900.

Air Pollution Control District: 26 Castilian Dr., Suite B-23,

Goleta 93117.

(805) 961-8800.

County Fire Department: 4410 Cathedral Oaks Road,

Santa Barbara, CA 93110.

(805) 681-5528.

Park Department: 610 Mission Canyon Road,

Santa Barbara, CA 93105.

(805) 568-2469.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Napa Valley Green Certification

With so many wine regions trying to distinguish themselves, you have to give the Napa Valley credit for being out front on yet another intitiative.  The Napa Valley Green Certification program is a A collective effort of the Napa Valley Vintners, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Napa County Farm Bureau and the Napa County Resource Conservation District.  It is frankly amazing that these groups worked together for the benefit of both the environment and the industry, and I applaud them and hope others will follow.
The certification programs hope to promote long-term sustainability in the county’s no. 1 industry and help the troubled Napa River watershed.  With sustainablity and local becoming such buzz words in the industry adn without much regulation on either of these terms, it is programs like these that will allow a consumers to distinguish between wineries that are serious about considering their impacts.
The Napa Green program certifies both wineries and vineyards and has met with remarkable success.  Some of the biggest names in the industry have joined and are now promoting the process. This trend is not only happening in Napa.
On the Central Coast, the Central Coast Vineyard Team has been hard at work with a similar program.  They have also garnered support from the Regional Water Quality Control Board.  Here is hoping that this group starts getting support from more local players like the local Vintners, the Grape Growers, the County Agricultural Commisions and others. 
For mor information on the Napa Green Certification, you can access the Napa Vintners website or the Napa Growers websites.  For the Central Coast Vineyard Team,  click on the attached link.



Sunday, November 28, 2010


I just posted a new website at  I admit that it still needs a ton of work, but I cannot believe that  I was able to do it by myself, in just a few hours and for free.  I pay a few bucks a month to have it hosted by where I got the free template. So go check it out and tell me what needs to be changed.  Cheers  Matt

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wine Preferences

I recently received and email with regard to a review of a winery called Cayuse. I admittedly know nothing about this winery. However, the review purported to show that the reviewers opinion of a winery was supported by scientific analysis of the wine.

I am a big fan of wine reviewers and reviews. I think that they help set a general tone for an increase in the quality of wine that we drink. That being said, I often find that many of wine consumers have vastly different preferences in the wines that we like to drink.

As an example, I am ok with a little bit of brett in my wines and often find that they add character. My wife, on the other hand, simply will not drink wine with Brett and can sniff it out from a mile away.

I am glad that there are wineries like Cayuse out there. Wineries that make a different style of wine and have a following that allows them to continue this. I think it adds to the complexity and interest for those of us that are wine lovers. As Thanksgiving is coming upon us, I raise my glass to all wine makers in a toast of thanks.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

TTB Label Terms

The TTB recently invited comments by publishing in the Federa Register proposed changes to the definition of certain words on wine labels. As someone that is often asked if certain terms are allowed on a bottle, this rule may actually affect a much larger number of wineries than people would assume or that may be aware of these rules. Mostly, this is because many people in the industry are not aware of the ramifications of placing the word Estate on their label or that by defining words, the TTB could have a direct affect on the value of their vineyards.

First, the TTB is proposing to codify the position that Estate Grown may only be used on wine that meets the requirements of Estate Bottled under 27 CFR 4.26. Essentially, the wine must be grown on vineyards controlled by the winery, crushed, fermented and bottled by the winery and within the AVA on the label. If you have presently use Estate Grown on your labels without complying with this requirement, your label approvals could be revoked and would not be exempt from this ruling.

Second, the TTB is looking at defining what a vineyard, farm or ranch is with regard to vineyard designation or claims of single vineyard on the label. For owners of these properties who value the ability to designate wines, it would seem that this could be a very important issue. A definition could limit a vineyad name to a certain AVA or area, such that vineyards which cross these lines would have to maintain two names. A vineyards could be defined as a contiguous parcel, such that Vineyards that are not entirely connected would have to have seperate names. This might dramatically affect the value of grapes from these seperated portions of your property.

Finally, the TTB is proposing to define a number of terms that are often added to a wineries description of the wine. These terms are such as: Proprietor Grown, Vintner Grown, Proprietors Blend, Old Vine, Barrel Fermented, Old Clone, Reserve, Select Harvested, Bottle Aged, and Barrel Select. If your winery uses any of these terms in its programs, you will want to be sure that what ever the basis is for your claim to these terms is incorporated into the rules. Otherwise, you label approvals could be revoked and you could find yourself in violation of TTB rules for continuing your past practices.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Los Olivos Tasting Rooms

There is an apparent uproar in my little hamlet about the number of wine tasting rooms. From a purely selfish point of view, I do wish there was a greater variety of retail stores in our town. However, as a frequenter of tasting rooms both here and many other wine regions, I am baffled by the primary arguments against tasting rooms. (Full disclosure, I make my living working for many of these tasting rooms.)

First, I have never noticed underage or even very many younger tasters in these rooms. Generally, the cost of tastes and the wines do not attract a crowd of rowdy underage or even college age drinkers. Second, I have found that most of my friends take care to arrange for driving when they go wine tasting, as most of us intend to drink wine. This is as opposed to many other social interactions when people will often fail to plan for sober driving.

Thus, I understand the frustration with having so many tasting rooms in our town. However, I do not understand the arguments against them, other than a mere inconvenience. Further, I am supremely suspicious of anyone who believes that the answer to this situation is government regulation.

One more thing that I want to point out. Without the tasting rooms pulling in lots of tourists, I think we all need to admit that the number of alternative retail would actually decrease. Frankly, the small number of locals can not even support the variety of retail that we have now. This is shown by the repeated failure of other retail stores that make the mistake of relying upon locals for the support of their business.(I for one, am sorry to see them go and apologize to those that I have failed to support. Particularly, Judith Hale.)