YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Riverside County Seeks Winery Grape Quota

Supervisors give early OK to a rule requiring Temecula wineries to use mostly local fruit.

June 15, 2005|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Napa Valley's grapes may be coveted by wine lovers across the nation, but at Temecula wineries they could be practically verboten, if Riverside County supervisors have their way.

Supervisors on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a measure that would require Temecula Valley vintners to use locally grown grapes in the wine they produce or sell, requiring at least 75% of their grapes to be from Riverside County vineyards.

The action comes at the request of many local wineries, who lobbied for the quota to protect Temecula's grape growers and to ensure that the grapevine-covered hills of southwest Riverside County are not bulldozed for homes.

"We're kind of at that critical juncture where, if we lose too much more vineyard, we're not going to have enough vineyards to supply winery needs," said Joe Hart, owner of Hart Winery.

Temecula, a park-filled city off Interstate 15 near the San Diego County border, is known for its wine industry, hot air balloon rides and a resort casino operated by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians -- plus its torrid growth. Temecula's population has increased by more than a third in five years, from 57,700 to 80,000, according to census figures.

Supervisor Jeff Stone, who represents Temecula, said the wineries are vital to Temecula's economy, which would be decimated if fields of Chardonnay vines were ripped out to make way for "5-acre ranchettes."

"Inch by inch, if you start letting development creep into the wine country, it's my opinion we're going to be taking away the long-term prosperity of the wine country as we know it today," Stone said.

The measure approved by supervisors, which must be aired in public hearings before a final vote, would clamp down on some local wine sellers who import the bulk of their grapes from outside the region, and small tasting rooms that market themselves as wineries without growing grapes.

Wine giant Callaway stands to lose the most, because the company uses only a small percentage of Temecula-grown fruit. With about 100,000 visitors to its tasting room sampling from 200,000 cases of wine sold annually, Callaway is a major attraction on the Temecula wine tour.

The company, owned by Allied Domecq Wines USA, stopped leasing Temecula vineyards several years ago after Pierce's disease ravaged its grape crop; it now imports most of its grapes from Northern and Central California.

The tighter rules demanding the use of local grapes "would effectively shut down our business," Callaway counsel Ken Minami told supervisors.

Many local growers say they fear that the use of imported grapes could spell doom for the Temecula Valley, which has emerged as one of Southern California's premier winemaking regions.

"We have something that we've worked hard to build up," said Phil Baily, owner of the 30-acre Baily Vineyard & Winery and president of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Assn. "We want our wineries, as they do now, to sell Temecula wine from Temecula grapes."

Temecula vintner Art Nelson doesn't buy the local pride argument, however.

"People come to Temecula to have a good time. Whether they drink Temecula wine, Napa wine, Paso Robles wine, I don't know that they really care," Nelson told the board.The restrictions passed by the supervisors are patterned after a similar measure that Napa County officials adopted in 1990, although Temecula's roughly two dozen wineries on 2,000 acres don't quite compare in scale with Napa Valley's 45,000 acres.

"Do they even have enough fruit grown in Temecula anymore to provide 75% for their wineries?" asked Becky Peterson, industry and member relations director for Napa Valley Vintners.

The Riverside County measure, which was unanimously approved, applies to a designated citrus and vineyard zone in Temecula which requires wineries to have at least 10 acres of land, three-quarters of which must be in grapevines.

Along with public hearings, the zoning change would require an environmental review before it could be adopted. The review process is expected to take at least six months.


Times staff writer Stephanie Ramos contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles