After years of debate, a vote scheduled and canceled, and a lawsuit filed and then yanked, Fauquier County leaders passed an ordinance Thursday night that will restrict what its wineries can do.
The rules, which passed 4 to 1, will limit things such as the wineries’ hours, ability to host events, add new buildings and serve food.
The issue has been hotly contested, with some neighbors and community groups upset that the wineries seemed to have free rein in their rural, peaceful county. “Oh my lord, they’re complaining about gatherings late in the night; lights coming down the road, shining into the neighbors’ houses; people who had too darn much to drink driving over neighbors’ yards,” said George Thompson, a lifelong resident. “It comes down to the health, safety and welfare of the neighbors.”
But the wineries, which are growing rapidly statewide and have increased from 2 to 26 in Fauquier over the past decade, said earlier versions of the ordinance would have driven them out of business. “It’s regulatory abuse,” said Philip Carter Strother, who said his entire life savings was invested in his farm winery in Hume.
The state agriculture secretary and various wine associations had weighed in to oppose drafts circulating earlier this week.
In recent years, the General Assembly had passed laws to protect wineries from onerous local regulations, an effort to promote and protect Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry, which now contributes $750 million annually to the state’s economy.
A final draft was circulated Thursday afternoon, shortly before the public hearing and vote by the Board of Supervisors, so while some residents were relieved that there would be rules after such a long debate, others were still sorting through the details of what, exactly, this would mean for the county.
Winery owners would meet to discuss how to challenge the ordinance, Strother said.
“We believe it’s in direct violation of state law. They have exceeded their zoning authority. . . . We believe it won’t stand up in court.”