Debate ensues over winery noise levels
It’s a battle fought over noise, lighting, property and business rights, with outspoken and vehement players on both sides.
And it was waged at Warrenton’s Green Building with surprising civility.
Virginia wine country residents and owners gathered in the sleepy Fauquier town Nov. 12 to debate the proposed amendment to a county ordinance outlining rights for the region’s burgeoning — and wildly successful — wine industry. Per the request of neighbors, the amended version curtails wine tasting hours to a traditional window of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Evening events are limited to one per week with up to 60 attendees, and one per month with up to 200.
Under the amendment, outdoor amplified music is prohibited, and lighting must conform to the county’s light shielding specifications.
Neighbors say the proposal is the only way they can guarantee a little peace and quiet for themselves since the advent of the wineries over the past decade. Farm wineries are known for hosting events frequently as a publicity tool and to gather a community around their product.
Opponents of this approach denounce it as an excuse to throw raucous parties.
“The public welfare is abused by wineries when they establish a massive industrial processing plant,” said neighbor Jack Holtz of Delaplane, who said the trucks, traffic and party noise destroy the region’s rural magic. One accuser even said — almost jokingly — that local wine quality is inversely proportional to the winery’s social scene.
Wyla Layton of Marshall called the behavior of many wineries “self-defeating,” saying that frustrated neighbors will eventually be forced to sell out to multi-use developers.
Other neighbors simply took exception to amplified music. Wayne Peterson of Broad Run, who lives near the popular Pearmund Cellars, said, “Our biggest issue is noise. We can hear everything at that winery.”
Winery owners spoke passionately in defense of their businesses, but for the most part seemed to listen closely to their neighbors’ cases.
Dan Mortland of Fox Meadow Winery said the county already has a process to regulate wineries that is underused, and further restrictions would prove stifling.
“Just use your process,” Mortland said. “We’re not interested in being a party business, but events are necessary.”
Brian Roeder of Barrel Oak Winery sought to temper some of characterizations engendered by neighbors.
“We are not industrial complexes, we are artisanal businesses,” he said, pointing out the small-sized vintages and cozy tasting rooms of each establishment. Roeder also cited sharp rises in California property values due to the farm wine industry, and said Virginia’s industry brings in $4 million in annual revenue to the state.
“You guys are in a bind financially,” Roeder told the Fauquier Board of Supervisors, who earlier reported a loss in revenue resulting from the economic recession. “Don’t knock down the wineries.”
The hearing served primarily as a discussion forum. Board Chairman R. Holder Trumbo said testimony would be gathered for another month before the issue is taken to a vote.