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Wine Club Newsletter - April 2024

Updated: May 11

Ramona Wineries Get a Break



RAMONA — The county Board of Supervisors last month directed staff members to start working on an update of the tiered winery ordinance that would allow more wineries in unincorporated areas and make it easier for boutique wineries to host live music.

Rami Talleh, deputy director of the county’s planning and development services, said the proposed changes to the ordinance came after current and prospective winery operators said they were looking to expand winery opportunities, reduce startup costs and simplify the permit process.


Supervisors were offered three options at the Feb. 28 meeting to expand the allowed zoning areas for wineries. The board voted unanimously in favor of the first option, which was proposed by staff as a quick way to expand winery operations to rural residential zones and add between 33,000 and 62,000 wine-friendly acres to the unincorporated area.

This would be done in several phases, Talleh said, starting with a feasibility report that examines the market, current zoning, and geographic characteristics to identify additional areas suitable for wineries.


“The second phase of this effort would involve preparing environmental documentation, ordinance amendments and establishing performance criteria, thresholds and buffers to address what we heard from stakeholders,” he said.


Supervisor Joel Anderson, who oversees Ramona and the unincorporated areas in District 2, said he’s seen the Ramona wine region grow in the last 15 years. “They’ve really matured, as the vineyards have matured their wine has matured and we’ve got great products up there,” he said. During the public comment period, nine Ramona residents expressed their support for making it easier for boutique wineries to offer live music.


In the past month, eight wineries in Ramona have received letters from the Sheriff’s Department stating they need to have entertainment licenses to continue hosting live, amplified music events outdoors.


Victoria Bradley, owner of Ramona Family Naturals, said the tourism brought in from the wineries and music events has increased business at her establishment. There’s also been an uptick in people renting her short-term rental in Ramona, she said.


She said she’s seen an increase over the last two years of people from all over the county coming to the wineries and stopping at her market to buy food to bring with them, and they often ask where they should go to hear live music.


“It definitely makes a difference that the word is getting out, people know that it’s happening and that’s what they want,” Bradley said. “I get people from L.A., Orange County, San Diego, all coming out to stay in Ramona for the wineries specifically.”


Ramona Chamber of Commerce President Bob Krysak presented the board with a petition created by the chamber showing support from the chamber, businesses and residents to expand the boutique winery ordinance to allow live music at the wineries.


“In just three weeks we have assembled over 2,000 signatures,” Krysak told the board. “And more will come.” According to the current ordinance, only wineries categorized as “small wineries” and “wineries” are able to receive permits to host events more than six times per year.


Most wineries in Ramona are boutique wineries and don’t fall under those categories, said Donna Durckel, land use group spokesperson for the county. They are not able to request permits to have more than six events a year.


“Under the existing ordinance there is no such thing as a temporary permit or anything like that,” she said. “The only thing allowed out of those boutique wineries are community events six times per year.”


The process to update the ordinance will take about a year — and begin later this year, Durckel said. It would allow boutique wineries to have limited amplified music with performance criteria without an administrative permit, she said.


County staff will flesh out the details of all the proposed changes to the ordinance for the board, which will schedule hearings on the proposal, Durckel said.“Any official change will still be more than a year from now as county staff will need to finalize the program and conduct environmental analyses at a cost of approximately $700,000,” she said.


District 5 Supervisor Jim Desmond said the updates to the ordinance were a long time coming. Wineries are a great economic driver for the community, he said, and more should be done to support the growers and winery operations.


Harrel writes for the U-T Community Press.


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