County responds to winery complaints

Sentinel photo
Sentinel photo

By Karen Brainard

San Diego County’s code compliance division recently received a number of complaints targeting several Ramona wineries.

Some complaints were not found to be valid, but records show that between July 30 and Aug. 15, six wineries in the Ramona Viticultural Area received warnings or citations for code compliance issues. One of the winery owners said he never received a notice and another said many of the claims proved to be false.

Violations reported by the county included opening a tasting room without a change of use permit and hosting special events without a major use permit.

According to the tiered winery ordinance, “events, including but not limited to weddings and parties, are prohibited.”

Such for-profit events are allowed if the winery owner has an administrative permit or a major use permit, depending on the scope, said the county.

A boutique winery can host an occasional not-for-profit party or event without a permit, said county staff, because that would be similar to the same rights held by other property owners.

The intent of the ordinance, staff explained, was to prevent use of a boutique winery site as a special event facility where the winery operators would hold such events for profit.

San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a tiered winery ordinance in August 2010 that would allow boutique wineries — those that produce 12,000 or less gallons of wine per year — to open tasting rooms by right on agricultural land zoned A70 or A72. Approximately 23 wineries in the Ramona area now have tasting rooms.

Carolyn Harris, general counsel of the Ramona Valley Winery Association and co-owner of Chuparosa Vineyards, was involved in working with the county on the tiered ordinance and said it is structured so owners can take small steps as their business grows.

“We have these tiers in place for anyone who wants to expand their liberties,” she said.

According to county staff, all the wineries that were cited are cooperating and taking steps to resolve the violations.

County Planning and Development Services policy does not allow proactive enforcement by the Code Compliance Division, said county staff. Code enforcement officers only respond to complaints from members of the public unless county staff observes a life/healthy/safety condition on a property, staff said.

   
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