WineAmerica Opposes Proposed Amendment to the Zoning Ordinance Affecting Farm Wineries in Fauquier County, Virginia

The following letter was sent to the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors on Thursday, July 12, 2012

WineAmerica, the National Association of American Wineries, on behalf of our member wineries in Virginia and across the nation, echo the concerns of the Fauquier Wine Council, the Virginia Wineries Association, and the Virginia Wine Council in opposing the proposed amendment to the Fauquier County zoning ordinance affecting local farm wineries.

WineAmerica is comprised of approximately 800 winery members in nearly every state. Through our state association partnerships, we represent the vast majority of the nearly 8,000 American wineries at the state, federal, and international levels. The mission of WineAmerica is to encourage sound public policy that will allow for the growth of the American wine industry, and to provide wineries market opportunities both domestically and abroad.

Over the past three decades, wineries have played an extraordinary role in the preservation of agricultural land and the development of local economies throughout Virginia and across the U.S. Much of this benefit accrues to localities like Fauquier County in the form of agritourism and related business growth. Consumers who visit wineries are likely to visit nearby restaurants, inns and other tourist destinations.

This success has been the conscious result of local and state policies that promote sustainable winery development. To advance their essential agricultural character, wineries in Virginia and across the U.S., commonly employ a wide array of marketing tools, including operation of tasting rooms, wine festivals, winery dinners, and winery concerts. Successful localities narrowly tailor their zoning laws to reflect the broadly positive cultural benefits of winery activities and events. As the Oregon Supreme Court has noted, reasonable local land use restrictions “reinforce the profitability of [winery] operations and the likelihood that agricultural use of the land will continue.”

Virginia Code Annotated § 15.2-2288.3(A) codifies these principles by recognizing “the agricultural nature of” local winery “activities and events.” Virginia law prohibits local regulation of such “activities and events” that “are usual and customary for farm wineries throughout the Commonwealth…unless there is a substantial impact on the health, safety, or welfare of the public.” (emphasis added).

Fauquier County is plainly prohibited from regulating with the kind of overbroad and unreasonably proscriptive regulation proposed in the zoning ordinance amendment. See id. Nevertheless, Fauquier is not the first locality to deal with winery activity and event regulation. We urge you to consider the narrowly tailored strategies already employed by countless jurisdictions throughout the U.S. that allow wineries the space to productively operate while protecting local health, safety, and welfare. The Board of Supervisors should not risk implementing bad policy that would seriously harm the many leading Virginia wineries that call Fauquier home.

Thoughtful regulation can reinforce the success of winery operations. We urge you to support the continued dynamic development of your local businesses, and to reject the proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance affecting farm wineries.