It isn't often that a story about the conflicting goals of farmers and developers has a happy ending. So it's refreshing to find that winegrowers and officials in Southern California's tiny Temecula region have found what seems to be a satisfying solution to a land-use problem.
In March, Allied Domecq, which owns Callaway Coastal winery in Temecula, proposed to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors that 740 acres of vineyard land be rezoned to allow for the construction of homes on 2-acre plots.
Temecula only has about 2,000 acres of vineyards, and Callaway is the appellation's largest and best-known winery, although it has been decreasing its presence there in recent years. According to Allied Domecq attorney Cecily Talbert, it was not economically viable for Callaway to replant the large portions of its vineyards that were wiped out by Pierce's disease, which hit Temecula hard in 1999 and 2000. Callaway, which has a long-term lease for the land with Napa-based Silverado Partners, wanted an out.
But local winery owners, grapegrowers, other local residents and officials were outraged. They felt the rezoning proposal would spell the end of Temecula's wine-country atmosphere and therefore its tourism business.
Now Silverado Partners has found a local buyer for 300 acres of the land, which is currently in escrow, said Callaway spokeswoman Peggy Evans. She said Dan Stephenson, owner of Temecula-based Rancon Real Estate Co., has a strong commitment to seeing the region's character maintained. "Dan Stephenson has lived in the area for 30 years, and he'll continue to live here. He's got a vested interest in seeing a project that will enhance, rather than detract from our wine country ambiance."
Stephenson said his game plan calls for the construction of a gated community with $1 million-plus homes on parcels of 5 acres or larger. While that still means houses are replacing vines, the size of the estates makes a big difference to local residents. As Temecula Valley Winegrowers' Association president Roberto Ponte put it: "Five-acre plots convey the feeling of open country."
At least 80 acres of the land surrounding the homes would be kept as vineyards, Stephenson said, and the grapes would be sold to local wineries (possibly including Callaway), with the proceeds going into the homeowners' association fund. The portion of the land along Rancho California Road, the main thoroughfare through Temecula's wine country, will be earmarked for the construction of four small wineries with vineyards.
Stephenson shared his ideas with members of the wine community and got feedback before going ahead with the project. Joe Hart, owner of Hart Winery, which is next door to Callaway, said, "It's a good deal as long as they don't ask for variances. I've talked with Stephenson, and I think he is sincere."
"The city seems to like it and the county likes it," said Ponte, "and it's better than the alternative. We [the winegrowers association] gave it the thumbs-up."
Callaway and Allied Domecq will maintain control of their winery facility and 40 acres of surrounding vineyards, which they own outright. The fate of the remaining 400 acres of land, also leased by Callaway from Silverado Partners, has yet to be decided. The land is for sale, but Evans could supply no further information.
Read more about this subject: