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Oregon Clarifies Rules for Winery Events

Legislation 'establishes a process' for local approval, small and mid-size wineries won't be exempt

by Peter Mitham
harry peterson-nedry
"Many facets of the bill clarify and define precisely the reality of making and marketing wine in the state today," Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem winery told the Oregon Senate Rural Communities and Economic Development Committee.
Salem, Ore.—Just in time for summer, Oregon lawmakers passed legislation that clarifies what kind of winery events are allowed in the state and what approvals are required.

Senate Bill 841 follows passage two years ago of House Bill 3280, which allowed wineries on EFU (exclusive farm use) properties to operate tasting rooms, to host marketing events, and to have at least 25 event days per year (see “Game Changer for Oregon Wineries”).

The new legislation promises a conclusive end to the several instances of wineries butting heads with their local officials regarding what’s permitted on farm land as the state’s wine industry has grown and wine country events grew in popularity.

Once signed into law by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, the legislation will give wineries across the state complete freedom to host marketing events while limiting “agri-tourism or other commercial events” to just 18 days per year.
    What the bill allows

    Senate Bill 841 affirms the right of Oregon wineries on farmland to host marketing events, including:
    • Wine tastings in a tasting room or other location on the premises occupied by the winery,
    • Winemaker luncheons and dinners,
    • Winery and vineyard tours,
    • Events with staff, winery suppliers, distributors, wholesale customers and wine-industry members,
    • Open-house promotions of wine produced in conjunction with the winery, and
    • Other activities conducted for the primary purpose of promoting wine produced in conjunction with the winery.

    Up to 18 days of “agri-tourism or other commercial events” are allowed across the state, with licenses required in the Willamette Valley for events including “outdoor concerts for which admission is charged, educational, cultural, health or lifestyle events, facility rentals, celebratory gatherings and other events at which the promotion of wine produced in conjunction with the winery is a secondary purpose of the event.”

    In addition, wineries may host charitable events so long as no facility rental fee applies.

Willamette Valley wineries, popular destinations for special events, require a renewable five-year license from local governments for the first six event days. Special approval—and administrative review—applies for seven or more event days to ensure wineries have addressed local concerns ranging from attendance to traffic, noise and waste management.

“It’s more restrictive, but it creates a clear line of what’s involved and establishes a process for wineries to go through to get approval,” explained attorney Elaine Albrich, an associate of Stoel Rives LLP in Portland, Ore. “It provides clearer direction to wineries about what’s authorized as a matter of right versus what types of activities would trigger some kind of review, particularly for wineries in the Willamette Valley.”

The heart of the Willamette Valley includes Washington, Yamhill and Polk counties, which have 292 wineries between them, according to WinesVinesDATA. The area also lies on a key route to the Oregon coast, exacerbating local traffic volumes.

Albrich told Wines & Vines that the new legislation strives to maintain the agricultural character of the popular tourist region so that farmers can farm while tourists visit.

“That’s a new aspect of Senate Bill 841 that we haven’t seen before for Willamette Valley wineries,” she said. “They don’t want the Willamette Valley or Yamhill County turning into another Napa, and so there’s more scrutiny for wineries in the Willamette Valley looking to carry on these activities.”

The new legislation also addresses a sunset provision in the 2011 legislation that would have eliminated rules for small and medium-sized wineries as of Jan. 1, 2014.

“Utter freedom to do anything you want is not a wise way of doing anything, candidly. We all need constraints,” said Harry Peterson-Nedry, founder of Chehalem Wines in Newberg, Ore., and president of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association.

The association championed the Senate bill together with the Oregon Wine Growers Association, the Southern Oregon Winery Association and the Winegrowers Association of Central Oregon, with members giving the final bill 85% approval.

The previous legislation garnered the approval of more than 70% of the industry, following two years of consultations to update rules that had been in place since 1989.

It’s “recognition of the fact that as the industry develops there are pressures that develop also,” Peterson-Nedry said. “You have to be a lot more aware of the people around you, and the other activities going on around you.”

During testimony before a Senate committee in April, Peterson-Nedry said the growth of the state’s wine industry depended on maintaining a balance between farming and commerce.

“With the projection of another 1.5 million people in Oregon between now and 2050, it becomes critical that we maintain our whole state perspective—both in encouraging commerce and preserving the lands that make it possible,” he said. “Our wines are special because this place is special.”

Speaking to Wines & Vines this week, Peterson-Nedry said he believes the new legislation accomplishes that goal, allowing a modicum of events while protecting the integrity of the Willamette Valley wine industry.

“We definitely did a good job of making sure the Willamette Valley was kept as a contiguous marketing brand, and an area that is known for extremely high quality, no matter whether the growth is already here or in the future,” Peterson-Nedry said.

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