I spend money in Fauquier because of your Family Wineries

In the next two to three months, Fauquier's Board of Supervisors is considering passing a new winery ordinance  that would restrict its family farm wineries in several potentially devastating ways. 

We ask that you sign the petition below in order to register your support for Fauquier county's family farm wineries and against the proposed county ordinance.  You can see the entire petition by clicking under the photo to the left on "letter".

Please read on if you'd like more information about this issue or feel free to skip directly to the petition signing.

In an October 7, 2009 confidential analysis, Fauquier's Deputy County Attorney unequivocally stated that "We are prohibited from regulating any activity that is agricultural and preempted by the State ABC laws from...regulating the sale, tasting and consumption of wine during the regular business hours and within the normal course of business of the winery. "  She goes on: "We are permitted to regulate those activities that are 'usual and customary' for wineries only where there is a 'substantial impact' on health, safety, and welfare. 

As of this date, the county administrator has not provided any evidence that any of the wineries of Fauquier County are substantially impacting the health, safety, or welfare of the county's citizens.  There have been no formal complaints against the county's wineries in the past year.  Yet this ordinance would reduce the current and in-place operating rights of the county's wineries, greatly undermining their economic viability. 

Under State law, this ordinance is illegal.  Yet the county can pass an illegal law. 
If passed, and in defense of our livelihoods, a lawsuit will have to be initiated against the county at great expense to taxpayers and winery owners.  There is no question that several wineries will be forced out of business by the damage and cost of the government's action. 

The proposed ordinance tells winery owners what hours their businesses can operate.  It prohibits wineries from having caterers prepare food on their property - a right enjoyed by every other property owner in the county.  It prohibits wineries from serving any food whatsoever, an action require
d of every other business that sells alcohol for consumption and a matter of public safety and common sense.  It prevents any outdoor amplified music, a right granted to every other business and resident in the county.  For the first time it requires business licensing for wineries, a requirement not made of any other agricultural business in the county.  And it puts Fauquier's wineries at a fundamental competitive disadvantage with the wineries in surrounding counties which allow all of these activities as required under state law.  Finally, the proposed ordinance sets a terrible precedent that if taken up by other counties in the Commonwealth would effectively destroy the economic viability of the only agricultural business that has shown any growth in Virginia over the past decade.

What are they thinking?  Fauquier's 20 family farm wineries employ over 250 people and have together invested over $50,000,000 in preserving over 600 acres in agricultural lands in the county.  Wineries are the only agricultural business that attracts sizeable tourism revenues and the only one that pays substantial --much less measurable-- sales taxes to the county treasurer.

We need your help now.  We are small farm owners who have invested every penny and our dreams in our businesses.  To meet state law, we must grow our own grapes to make our wine.  In return, we are given the right to sell our wine without local restriction as long as we do not disturb our neighbors.  We are not disturbing our neighbors.  Most wineries take years to break even.  The Commonwealth understands this and has passed laws that give us the chance to pursue our dreams and recoup our investments in spite of the enormous costs associated with starting our businesses.  The county is threatening to illegally disregard those laws, effectively taking away our rights and our income.  This is wrong.

We need your help now!

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We, the undersigned, do not live in Fauquier County, but we spend significant time in Fauquier visiting your various wineries. We, and our friends, enjoy the accessibility of your wineries to the greater WDC region, the people that own and staff the wineries, and the beautiful landscape and views that the county has to offer. We love nothing more than a great Fauquier County sunset, a glass of wine, and our friends on a patio with others enjoying the exact same thing. Unfortunately, your proposed changes in zoning will eliminate a lot of our ability to continue to do these activities. No longer will we enjoy summer sunsets at our favorite wineries as the sun sets well after your proposed 6pm limit. No longer will we and our friends head to our favorite wineries for a tasting on the way to a Fauquier county dinner reservation as a 6pm closing would require us to make changes to our travel and dining habits. No longer will we be able to meet with friends to enjoy a glass of our favorite Fauquier County wine after work as northern VA traffic patterns eliminate all possibility of arriving at any Fauquier County winery with enough time to actually enjoy our time there. No longer will we be able to perhaps enjoy a local musician quietly playing music outside or a local food vendor providing organic farm direct food from Fauquier farmers. 

As you can see, the proposed changes begin to negatively impact the convenience that Fauquier County has offered us in the past. These changes will 100% result in an economic loss as we will be less inclined to change our social, dining, and travel habits to accommodate your proposed changes. Not only will this result in a loss of sales at the wineries, but this will also be felt in your restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, and tourism efforts as our main draw to Fauquier County has been relegated to an inconvenience. I ask you to reconsider this.

1.  Allowing farm  winery retail operations to offer evening hours as provided for under Commonwealth  ABC laws and in accordance with their ABC Farm Winery licenses,

2.  Not restricting visitations, groups, activities, or events provided that the farm winery is in compliance with state health and traffic safety requirements as administered by the Commonwealth's Environmental Health and VDOT offices,

3.  Allowing entertainment in the form of indoor and outdoor music provided that such music is not louder than current county noise ordinance permits and does not disturb neighbors,

 4.  Not imposing any new farm winery restrictions given the continued absence of formal complaints from neighbors and, in the event of such complaints, applying  existing ordinances as necessary  to bring  a farm winery's activities  back into compliance with applicable county requirements,

5.  Allowing limited food service, either pre-prepared or prepared at the winery in accordance with Health Department regulations, to be  at the farm winery so as to encourage patrons who consume wine on-premises to do so with the accompanying intake of food --as indeed is the norm at every other venue that serves alcohol for consumption on-premises.

All in all- we hope you review your proposal from the perspective of consumers who have truly enjoyed their time spent in Fauquier County but will sadly head elsewhere if inconvenienced.  We see Fauquier as one of the last "great places" in the Metro region, an accessible yet cherished destination to get away and find historic and protected lands and vistas.  In return for you protecting your winery destinations, we agree to continue to spend our income in the many businesses that we encounter upon our many visits.  That said, if you make your wineries into places where people are only allowed to just "taste and buy", where it is not possible to linger and enjoy so many other pleasures such as the educational tours, wine dinners, or just plain patio relaxing available at each unique destination winery, then we'll go elsewhere.  We believe that, as a result, you will be left only with tour busses and hordes of people seeking a hip "tasting party" and indifferent to the very amenities that we seek out.  There are just too many other options in NOVA where we can enjoy ourselves, spend our money, and introduce our friends to our love of wineries.

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