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Jorge Chavarria, left, and Rigo Mares in the John Sebastiano vineyard off Highway 246 west of Buellton. Vintners say an updated winery ordinance making its way to the Board of Supervisors could discourage growth and squeeze out small producers. 

File Photo

Wine industry leaders spoke out against a proposed update to the county’s Winery Ordinance during a public hearing Thursday, pointing out what they perceived as flaws in the environmental review and the impact of the regulations.

Stacey’s Hall in Los Olivos was filled with about 50 people, but just six spoke out during the hearing, all of whom were vintners or their supporters.

Complaints ranged from the impacts the ordinance could have on small winemakers attempting to break into the industry, to traffic studies that vintners say are flawed.

The Draft Environmental Impact Report states that Ballard Canyon Road handles more than 1,400 cars each weekend day and 1,700 each weekday. The report analyzes what traffic patterns would look like if two wineries were built each year for 20 years within the county, with the possibility of six on any given street, including Ballard Canyon Road.

The wineries would add 700 cars to the road every day, the report states.

Vintners, however, are taking issue with the figures.

“Not only do you have six wineries, but also have to say that none of those wineries shared a single customer. Only then can you turn around and say that your made-up theory of the 3 percent increase in traffic would decrease quality of life. It’s an insane computation,” said Matt Allen, a Santa Ynez Valley-based lawyer.

Winemaker Michael Larner said that if the calculations were accurate, “I’d have 150 people in my tasting room every minute of every day, and then I’m violating the ordinance because I’m having events open every day.”

County planning officials, however, said that as far as they know, the traffic study is accurate and accounts for visitors touring multiple wineries in a single trip.

 “The traffic analysis looks at pass-by trips. That’s something we considered looking at where visitors are traveling along wine trails,” said Senior Planner Brian Tetley, adding that because the report hypothesizes where wineries could go, planning presents some challenges.

“You don’t know precisely where the wineries will go,” Tetley said. “We’ll continue to review [traffic analysis] for accuracy.”

The sole significant and unavoidable impact of the growing wine industry, Tetley said, is the ethanol emissions from the wine making process impacting air quality.

"That triggers a threshold in the county and we have no feasible mitigation," Tetley said. 

Others took less issue with the environmental studies and focused on the overall impact of the ordinance, which they said could squeeze out smaller producers and discourage growth throughout Santa Barbara County.

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“[The document] seems intent on slowing economic opportunity and sustainable job growth from an industry that is responsible, vibrant, self-policing and is the engine of charitable giving in the county,” Wes Hagen, a consulting winemaker at ThornHill Company said.

One winemaker called the ordinance “class warfare.”

“It’s impossible for someone with an average income of what a winemaker makes, to buy property, make wine and not pay rent to somebody else and do it all themselves. You’re basically giving a hand-out to the rich people,” said Mike Roth, a Los Alamos winemaker.

The meeting Thursday was just one step in what is now a four-year long process updating and clarifying existing provisions in the county's original Winery Ordinance adopted in 2004. 

Introduced in response to concerns over the growth of a burgeoning wine industry throughout the county, the ordinance update creates a tiered structure that would regulate winery operators.

The proposed system separates wineries by acreage, allowing those on larger parcels of agricultural land to host some special events with conditional use permits, while limiting other smaller wineries.

Vintners say the proposal creates a division in the region between wineries that received permits prior to the ordinance, exempting them from regulations, and new wineries that are put at a financial disadvantage.

The county Planning Department will review the document after the public comment period ends July 13, before sending it to the Planning Commission as early as this fall, Tetley said. Comments can be sent to

Harold Pierce covers the Santa Ynez Valley as a reporter for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce