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Wine Politics and Silly Season Go Local in Oregon

Weary from HR 1161 and national wine politics?  Don’t look to Oregon for respite.  There, its silly season for local politics and it’s wearing the patience of the well-intentioned causing furrowed brows as an assault against reason takes place.

By nearly universal account, Ed King, founder of King Estate in Lane County in the southern Willamette Valley, has built something from nothing – with vision and moxie he has created the largest winery in Oregon.  His is an internationally renowned, sustainable, certified organic estate winery on a 1033 acre property in an area that didn’t have much going for it when he started in 1991.

Planted to 465 acres of grapes and another 35 acres in fruits, vegetables and flowers, King Estate is an exemplar of respecting the land as an ecosystem, supporting farm-to-table cuisine as a way of life (before it became trendy), job creation with a staff of over 200 and a payroll of over $5M a year (nurturing a local economy in the process) while paying heed to the so-called, “Triple Bottom Line” – the notion that a business can be profitable, people-oriented and environmentally sound (this interactive map gives insight into the management of the estate). 

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In fact, King Estate achieved what many aspire to, but few attain in the wine business:  The creation of a national brand that doesn’t compromise on its core values of agricultural stewardship.  Editorial note to Ed King:  Start name-checking obscure literature reference points, footnote your missives and hire Randall Grahm’s PR apparatus to super-size your well-deserved mojo.

Yet, despite being a beacon of light for how to run a business, King Estate finds itself in the middle of a political sticky wicket from land use advocates.

A tiny operation, the Goal One Coalition is a public interest group that serves to mobilize citizens on issues related to global warming and a “limited number” of land use issues.  My interpretation of, “limited number” means they get their knickers in a twist at least once a year on a minor issue that justifies their existence in the annual report.

Using McCarthyism as a tactic, Goal One has picked a fight with King Estate and the nexus of the issue is a case study in the pointless nature of most politics, absent reason and distinctly partisan in nature.  Let it be said that sometimes a democracy is a drawback, nothing ever gets accomplished in a committee and while all opinions are equal, some are more equal than others.

You see, King Estate had the temerity to establish a restaurant on their grounds in 2005 and pair their wines with estate-grown comestibles along with foodstuff from local farmers and food artisans.

While the restaurant wasn’t an issue for several years, the formerly lackadaisical Lane County land management division encouraged several of the larger wineries, including King Estate, to start submitting for permits for special events and restaurant activity on a volunteer basis in 2009.  King Estate did just that – submitting an application in October of 2009 and their application was approved in December, 2010, some 15 months later (Lane County officials are, apparently, very busy … ahem).

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Unfortunately, in the intervening months, the state of Oregon passed Senate Bill 1055 and, well, when it comes to politics the state and the local folks don’t much communicate (see also:  formerly lackadaisical)

Under Senate Bill 1055, newly signed into law, a winery is only allowed to sell things that are incidental to the retail sale of wine, including items that would be in a limited-service restaurant, as defined by another Oregon statute.  That statute dictates that a limited-service restaurant means, “pre-packaged” food.

So, what do you think happened when King Estate finally received its permit from Lane County?  Yup, you got it – the Goal One Coalition appealed it on the basis that the newly installed Oregon law from Senate Bill 1055 meant that King Estate’s restaurant that had just received its permit from Lane County was in violation of the new law.

Do you see where this is going?  King Estate, an all organic estate vineyard with a five year old farm-to-table restaurant voluntarily submitting for permitting, waylaid by a new law, was being poked in the chest by radical land use extremists and might have to serve pre-packaged food at its restaurant based on a small technicality…

This makes perfect sense doesn’t it; it’s completely rational, right?  Paging Bizarro Superman... 

And, of course, the land use Nazi’s realized that King Estate has been operating the restaurant for the last five years, has never had a complaint from a neighbor, serves farm-to-table food that supports the local community and treats its land like the crown jewel that it is in the Southern Willamette Valley.  Right? 

Flash forward a couple of months and House Bill 3280 is introduced to right some of the wrongs from the former Senate Bill 1055 including giving the capability for a newly designated, “Landmark” winery (a winery that produces 150K + gallons of wine per year in at least three out of five years) to operate a restaurant.

As of May 2nd, House Bill 3280 passed the House with a resounding vote of 52-3 and it moves on to the Senate for vote, as well.  Thank goodness somebody is demonstrating some rational thought even if it probably took thousands of dollars in lobbyists’ money to do so …

Signing the King Estate petition is still a valid exercise until the Senate bill is approved.  If you’re so inclined, you can do so here.  Personally, I like the notion of a national readership carpet bombing a local petition, but then I’m a benevolent anarchist at heart.

Hopefully, reason beholds the Oregon legislature giving King Estate a clear path forward in continuing to serve food and wine together at the sustainable table, as they should be, and we can turn our focus onto other nefarious activity including HR 1161.

Politics, man.  Got love it.  Or, not.



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Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (9) |


Comments

On 05/19, Vicki Elam wrote:

Excellent article and very information!!

On 05/20, David Honig wrote:

Jeff, Great work, as usual. One quibble though. I truly wish nobody would use “Nazi” to describe people who are unusually strident and annoying. Nazis slaughtered tens of millions. They didn’t write letters, collect signatures, or lobby for silly laws.

On 05/20, Jeff wrote:

Point well taken, David.

I lump the use of that word into the same category as calling a sporting event a “War.”

While politically incorrect, I think it’s also important to note that an op-ed piece is intended to provoke reaction. 

Jeff

On 05/22, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

If I may defend my home state…

Lets give the Oregon senate a little credit for closing the loophole.  This is the second time in as many years a stupid law relating to alcohol ruins everybody’s fun, then gets fixed by the state assembly (last year it was homebrewing under attack).

If anything, I don’t feel bad for King Estates, I feel bad for wineries producing less than 150+ gallons of wine that are still prohibited from running a restaurant.  Anyone who has been tasting in the Willamette Valley knows there is a lack if restaurants outside of Portland, and an abundance of farms.

On 06/08, Aglianico wrote:

I read like last month that book a great read.

On 06/23, Odd Bacchus wrote:

This is a great post about silly bureaucracy inexplicably hampering a business. Well done. But I must agree with Gab From Portland: What about the smaller wineries? Why should they be prohibited from opening restaurants? That sort of governmental micromanagement, which seems particularly prevalent in the wine/liquor industry, has always irked me.

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