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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 8:35 pm | A Few Clouds 51º


Letter to the Editor: Preserving Estate Wineries

After moving to the Santa Ynez Valley in 1997 and establishing a sustainable vineyard in 1999, our family took a huge step on April 22, 2010, to pursue an estate winery.

We submitted for development with reference to our multigenerational business plan to construct a winery in two separate phases on our 130-acre parcel.

Classified as a Tier 2 winery under Santa Barbara County’s current winery ordinance, the project included a 25,000-case winery (the ordinance allows for 40,000 cases), a tasting room and eight special events with up to 150 attendees. Because we wanted to be respectful to future permitting restrictions, we only asked for what is allowed by current county zoning, community plans, regulations and rules.

As of today, we have none of the above.

We are being opposed by a small, but vocal group of neighbors, who call themselves the Friends of Ballard Canyon and champion the anti-winery sentiment that is so counterproductive to our valley’s economic future.

The county and our opponents painted the initial project into a corner by requesting an Environmental Impact Report that was estimated at $500,000 — and only served to cause further delays.

As a result — six years after our original application — we are coming back to the county with a new, significantly smaller project.

On April 18, 2016, a new zoning administrator at the county Planning Commission’s office in Santa Barbara will hear our project. Our project now encompasses an 8,000-case winery in an existing barn, a tasting room in an existing structure and four special events with up to 150 attendees who are required to be shuttled from an off-site location.

It is our hope that our neighbors will be satisfied with the compromises we have made with them in mind.

In the meantime, we continue to get irrational requests, including removing my workers’ port-a-potties and my not using tractor lights during harvest vineyard work.

Clearly, they simply do not respect my right to farm my land. Sometimes it would appear that the only rules you need to follow in this county are what others think is good for your own property.

Perhaps they fear that my winery approval will open the gates to more agricultural work in the Ballard Canyon American Viticultural Area (AVA), of which I am a founder.

Ironically, despite the successes of Santa Barbara wine since the 1970s, there is but a single tasting room in Ballard Canyon today. My project would be the second. Hardly an onslaught of development over the past 40-plus years.

During this process, I have been mindful of the concept of legacy and building a project that will have to last at least three generations in order to be successful, the wine industry's benchmark. Like any true farmer, our livelihood is bankrolled by sweat and hard work, and my winemaking roots run deep in the property that I own.

If this philosophy is not safeguarded, there will be no future for agriculturalists in Santa Barbara County. There will be no future generation of farmers.

Despite a generational gap, I have no issue with the agricultural uses my neighbors make with their land or the lack thereof. In return, I don’t see why they should interfere with my business.

I welcome the diversity of local land uses: It is what makes us authentic and not Napa Valley. I believe that agriculture ensures long-term viability; we signed a 10-year Williamson Act contract with the State of California to protect the longevity of our agricultural pursuits. In that fashion, our family did not buy land to retire.

Given that our land is our livelihood (for my generation and that of my children, ages 5 and 2), we cannot give up on our family dreams. We have too much at stake. 

Michael Larner, Larner Vineyard & Winery

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