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Wine Growers Feeling Squeezed Out Of Temecula Valley

“Growers are worried. Some don’t see the point of being here.”

A plan from Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone that would expand the boundaries of Temecula Wine Country is leaving some wine growers sour.

At issue is Stone’s 2020 Wine Country Community Plan, which aims to expand Temecula Wine Country into a nearly 19,000-acre tourist destination, but some growers say the plan needs to place more emphasis on preserving viticulture.

And that argument got heated Wednesday when a standing room only crowd gathered for a daylong hearing on Stone's plan at the Temecula Civic Center.

Boiling Point: Church vs. Wine

Discussion Wednesday was whether to move forward on the plan and recommend it to the Board of Supervisors. Under Stone's proposal, land in the proposed mapped area would be zoned for different uses, including agriculture, residential, and equestrian (the Valle De Los Caballos equestrian center is within the plan’s boundaries).

The proposed plan doesn’t allow for churches or schools, nor does the county allow it today, but Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship built its current house of worship on Rancho California Road in the heart of Wine Country back in 1999, and now the church wants to expand and build a school on its property.

Alcohol and schools don’t mix in California, and neither do pesticides and school children, but these are the realities if Calvary is allowed to expand, according to Peggy Evans, executive director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association.

During Wednesday's hearing, church officials and lawyers persuaded the Riverside County Planning Commission that it should consider making room for Calvary’s expansion in the 2020 Wine Country Community Plan: In a 4-0 vote, the commissioners agreed to send Stone’s plan back to staff to determine if it should be amended to allow schools and churches into Wine Country.

According to Michelle McCue, a spokeswoman for the 35-member Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, when Calvary built its current facility, area growers were hesitant to raise a red flag.

“It was planned to be a small country church,” McCue said. “Most growers didn’t have a problem with that. Even if they did, they didn’t want to sound anti-religion. But what’s being proposed now by Calvary is a mega church.”

Calvary Pastor Clark Van Wick that local growers simply don't want his "kind" in the Valley, but Ray Falkner, owner of Falkner Winery, whose property is adjacent to the Calvary plots in question, said in a released statement, “For us, it’s a simple question of preserving existing vineyards and the remaining plantable acres in Temecula Valley, like they’ve done in Napa Valley and Sonoma. It’s pretty heartbreaking to see farmers and hardworking local business owners being painted as anti-religious or anti-church simply because we’re trying to prevent Temecula from turning into Rancho Cucamonga. Most of us are churchgoers ourselves, and are just blown away at some of the nasty propaganda floating around.”

Evans argued the school expansion “opens the door to all kinds of issues” and sets a precedent for other churches and schools to open in Wine Country.

Feeling Squeezed

After Wednesday’s vote by county commissioners, Evans said the mood in Temecula Wine Country has been gloomy.

“The feeling is it’s the beginning of the end,” she said, explaining that grape growing in Temecula Wine Country is a very small industry and chewing up existing acreage for uses other than viticulture would have a negative impact on the local winemakers.

“Right now, we have about 1,500 acres of vines growing,” she said. “Under the 2020 Wine Country Community Plan, we think we could plant another 1,000 to 1,500 acres, max. Grapes can only be grown in certain areas.”

By comparison, the wine-producing region of Paso Robles in Central California currently has more than 22,000 acres of vines planted, McCue said.

Turning Temecula Wine Country into a worldwide tourist destination won’t happen without the viticulture aspect, Evans said.

“Growers are worried,” she added. “Some don’t see the point of being here.”

Stone wants to expand the number of wineries from 42 to 105 under his plan.

“Where will they go?” Evans asked. “There’s no room.”

“The 2020 Plan makes it seem as if it’ll triple or quadruple vineyard land and wineries -- but that’s a total pipe dream because most of the 18,000 acres they’re talking about are either already developed to housing, equestrian and wineries, or just plain aren’t suitable for wine grape growing,” said Ben Drake, owner of vineyard management company Drake Enterprises, which farms the majority of Temecula Valley’s existing vineyards. In his released statement Drake added, “I know this Valley better than just about anyone and I can tell you that realistically there are only about 1,500 acres left of plantable land in Temecula Valley. And that’s just not enough to sustain our existing wineries, much less to support the 105 wineries the county says are possible.”

According to a petition launched by a coalition of local growers, Temecula Valley’s wine industry is at risk. The petition asks Riverside County to “prioritize vineyard development over interests that are incompatible with Wine Country’s unique agricultural character. …

“We ask you to uphold the Mission Statement put forth in the Temecula Valley Wine Country Community Plan,” the petition continued, “to ‘preserve vineyard lands and to create an environment that encourages development of wineries with the goal of making the Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country known and respected worldwide.’”

SPB August 24, 2012 at 05:53 PM
though I wouldn't mind the increase in real estate value... just sayin.
Adrian August 24, 2012 at 07:02 PM
I must say I am happy to read the comments today. Unlike previous articles, there isn't a huge outcry on here about stifling religious freedom. Perhaps people are finally seeing past Clark Van Wick's reframing of the issue and are realizing that this is solely a matter of the seeking of exemption, by a business, from zoning laws; at the cost to other, established businesses no less!
Mr. Temecula August 24, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Just another Temecula City Council colossal blunder, Jeff Stone should be ashamed of himself, he’s damaging the Temecula wine industry and the religious community with his quest for profits.
Stoner August 24, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Supervisor Stone sounds like he is in the land development business. Temecula has a tourism flow which does NOT need expanding. I am not associated with any wineries or have any ties to this topic beyond being a resident. Many politicians have done similar actions because themselves, family, or others own property or have a vested interest to make these changes. The adage "follow the money" might be applicable here, because it smells a little. I heard from some friends recently about private meetings Stone was holding with neighbors in the areas he is proposing these changes. Leave Temecula alone Stone, you left City Council long ago and we can take care of ourselves.
Fade67 August 24, 2012 at 07:37 PM
What does it matter what the hard working, tax-paying, citizens of Temecula think? The group with the most money will buy the politicians off and get their way (ala Quarry). Just sit back and (dis)enjoy the ride.
BST August 24, 2012 at 08:11 PM
BUT this is what the City Council,Leaders of Temecula want!! they have been quoted to have said, "we only want the best, we WILL be bigger and better than Riverside and Orange County"....SO, they are a bunch of money hungry greedy people who only have their own bank accts at heart/interest. They make soo much money and work at the "white/gold house" in Old Town...should be renamed ...New Town, the town the city council built!!!!!
BST August 24, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Moved here because we liked the rural setting,country type living. That is LOST now, has been for about 5yrs now with all the building on 79s/temecula pkwy area. so many homes,offices etc that are empty!! and yet they still build build build...why? for their greedy bank accts. Riverside County needs to stop bringing their ideas here and keep them in their backyard. I used to enjoy driving in wine country,work out there for a private grower,seeing the horses,birds and little traffic. Well, now it's always crowded with Semi trucks,bobtail trucks,and hundreds of cars daily!! they put up Horse crossing zings...Really? Who would want to ride their horse with all the bloody traffic...let alone the pollution. Enough building, that new hotel at Ponte's sticks out of place. Looks like it should be in Vegas or Hollywood....and they want more??? Has anyone on Riverside County Council been to the winieres up north? There are no weddings allowed due to traffic,Napa does not want to ruin the environment..hmmm, and Santa Barbara area winieries, they are spread out, no fancy hotels etc, and they are centrally located so not to ruin the country,winery feeling. If the goal is to be like Napa then they need to take more studies and listen to the people of Temecula. They took oaths to do what is best for the people they are serving..They have lost sight of that..clearly. Sorry, the length...got off on a tangent
belinda contopulos August 24, 2012 at 08:59 PM
I am a church goer and I agree 100%...well said.
Susan Marsh August 24, 2012 at 09:39 PM
For the record... that hotel you mentioned is a "bed and breakfast" according to the plan.
Matt Lillig August 24, 2012 at 11:01 PM
I'm with the wineries also!
Matt Lillig August 24, 2012 at 11:19 PM
I'm all about new development if it brings value to our city of Temecula. More value to the city brings more value to our home prices. As long as the development is at a nice easy pace and we can be smart about it, then I'm all for it. There's nobody that wants Temecula to turn into a big city of course. We all enjoy bragging about our little Southern California Wine Country piece of heaven. And we all want to keep it that way. I've lived in Sonoma (graduated from Sonoma State) and spent a lot of time at the vineyards in both Napa and Sonoma and have seen how growth in those areas have yet to disturb that peacefulness and tranquility of those valleys. The big difference between Sonoma and Napa though is that there's less land here. So we have to be even smarter about what we develop and how quickly we develop.
Matt Lillig August 24, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Ha, I used to live in Diamond Bar and that used to be a rural, hilly, country type living with cows and coyotes. Look at it now. Every small town in California eventually finds its growth. Sure the 79, has built up, but I still feel like Temecula is a small town. I like the fact that I can drive 2 miles to get milk and yet still only drive 7 miles to be in the vineyards or to go mountain biking.
John Contabile August 25, 2012 at 02:27 AM
The communities best interest would be served by promoting wineries and their business. The churches best interst would be served by not suing the community. There is plenty of room for their school elsewhere.
Don D August 25, 2012 at 02:33 AM
I have been to most of the ADHOC advisory meetings as this has been in formulation and both planning commission meetings. Listing to the vintners it was grapes grapes grapes. Ran across a letter to the County’s principal planner for the 20/20 proposal last night,. which exposes some real hypocrisy from these large land owners. The link below will take your to the county website with a 4 page PDF file. It about money and grapes are secondary lets real guys. http://www.socalwinecountryplan.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=G9VZP0zcApM%3D&tabid=68 From: Large landowners of the Temecula Wine country Date: May 10, 2011 TO: George Johnson, Mitra Mehta-Cooper RE: Hospitality, Time Shares, Fractional Ownership, Condos & Townhouses and Golf Courses in Wine Country Hotels, time shares, condos and golf courses are not grapes. I am sure their are some winegrowers that are in it for the grapes and wine, that the way it should be kept.
gordon August 25, 2012 at 02:35 AM
tule, i have to agree with you. the county wants to turn this area into a circus for it's tax money and all the supervisors probably have a stake in the land being discussed. as the land expert stated, the area is already farmed out. no more room to grow descent vineyards. sups dont care. let them farm a half acre of grapes, then put in 50 acres of tasting rooms, a wedding chapel and a bunch of rooms for the tourists. then call it a wine region. that's all they want. meanwhile, the small town atmosphere is already a thing of the past. and the wine? it never was that good anyway. probably why you only find our wines in the local cvs stores, at half the price charged by the growers.
CouncilWatcher August 25, 2012 at 04:58 AM
Riverside County senior planner Mitra Mehta-Cooper has resigned her position. "Juan Perez, director of the county Transportation and Land Management Agency, said Mehta-Cooper has resigned effective Sept. 5. Perez said she submitted her letter of resignation on Thursday. That would be the day after a particularly long and boisterous hearing on the plan at the Temecula Civic Center. Perez said he could not discuss Mehta-Cooper's reasons for leaving. "As far as the Wine Country Community Plan is concerned, we will have Frank Coyle, deputy planning director, step in to oversee that program," he said."
Lash LaRue August 25, 2012 at 05:43 AM
Speaking of Jeff Stone and Juan Perez, take a look at these articles. Jeff Stone is offering amnesty to people in Anza who have gotten code enforcement violations. If any of you know of anyone who has a code enforcement violation/fine contact Jeff Stone's office and you can get amnesty also. He is wiping the slate clean of all fines! What a powerful man as he didn't even need to get a vote from the rest of the Board of Supervisors to enact his amnesty plan. We should all have equal rights and all code violations throughout the County should be given amnesty not just a few. http://www.anzavalleyoutlook.com/story/65901/ http://www.pe.com/local-news/riverside-county/hemet/hemet-headlines-index/20120810-anza-code-enforcement-amnesty-offered.ece http://idyllwildtowncrier.com/2012/08/12/stone-announces-code-enforcement-amnesty-for-anza/
john August 25, 2012 at 06:18 AM
Blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah??!! Blah blah blah blah?? BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!!! Blah blah blah blah blah.
CATHY LYLE August 25, 2012 at 09:32 PM
AMEN!!!!!
Farmer Cat August 25, 2012 at 10:29 PM
i work in a wine country restaurant, every guest wants a view of the vineyards and hills. Once the "Mega-Church" goes in, complete with the 400 parking places, the view will be of cars and asphalt. Not very pretty. Not to mention the fact that this area is unique to growing grapes. The church can get a hold of God in town. We can't grow grapes there.
Farmer Cat August 25, 2012 at 10:30 PM
i work in a wine country restaurant, every guest wants a view of the vineyards and hills. Once the "Mega-Church" goes in, complete with the 400 parking places, the view will be of cars and asphalt. Not very pretty. Not to mention the fact that this area is unique to growing grapes. The church can get a hold of God in town. We can't grow grapes there.
Mike August 25, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Accommodation make sense as they do up north , Wine country becomes a dead zone after 5 . Don't get me started on old town the restaurants are loosing vuisness because city council members pick and choose who can have music and who can't. The noise complaints from low income housing shut down gandadz hot dogs only place you can sit outside with your family And feel a picnic feeling and feed kids for less than 4 bucks. Now the new owner the city won't let him even play music CDs Why the Fk do we have multiple low income Housing in old town anyhow? What idiot promoted that?... Oh ya ... Government grants and funding... City council is like flattening old buildings as fast as they can throw up these housing units for poor and criminal off spring... What a joke Temecula city council mafia..... Keep up the destructive work !!
Iliveheretoo August 26, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Temecula Valley Wine Country? Temecula Valley Whine Country is a better description. Free local TV promotion, shuttle services, tasting rooms taking prime Front St. space in Old Town with 'wine tasters' loudly bellowing and guffawing from patios, starting fights and vomiting on the sidewalk, attracting 'tourists' that enjoy cheap liquor. No class.
Kehleyr August 27, 2012 at 02:26 PM
I agree 100%!!! Let Temecula wine country continue to be wine country.
parrotkind August 27, 2012 at 04:48 PM
For all the people saying they agree with the vintners, sign the petition to Protect Wine Country.
parrotkind August 27, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Maybe you don't care, but it is obvious that others do care. Don't like the comments, don't read them...simple as that!
davos the rich banker August 27, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Interesting SB County doesn't have the same zoning rules about churches, and there are plenty already in our wine country. On Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 11:38 AM, <dlb@californiadreamin.com> wrote: Any churchs planned in wine country? http://temecula.patch.com/articles/wine-growers-feeling-squeezed-out-of-temecula-valley http://global.christianpost.com/news/calvary-chapel-fellowship-squeezes-calif-winegrowers-over-no-church-law-80379/ http://blog.pe.com/temecula/2012/08/21/temecula-vinters-wine-plan-hijacked-by-calvary-chapel/ -- Matt Kettmann Senior Editor The Santa Barbara Independent Independent.com 805-965-5205 ext. 118 matt@independent.com 122 West Figueroa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Love Wine Country August 28, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Well said!
seekeroftruth December 27, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Agree with teachintemc. I have left this church for this very reason. It already has a church there. They bought an adj property to build the school/office/church and then found out that zoning wording that allowed them to be there in the first place was changed. They are not being forced to move, they have a church there now but want to build a school. I don't believe they understand all the closed doors mean stop and build somewhere else. I think it's a pride thing and has nothing to do with the law. I side with the vintners, after all it is a AG area. FYI, the church doesn't use real wine for communion or do wedding for the general public for the visitors to Temecula. In these last days the Church should be concerned about sharing the love of Jesus and witnessing to the community not spending tons of $$ in ad's on t.v. & radio and giving $100,000 to the planning commission to change the zoning plan. unbelievable. CCBF is shaming the good name of their church and probably causing many believers to be discouraged and really stumbling non-believers in their behavior. Claming they will take it to the supreme court. Several properties fell out of escrow for one reason or another over the last 4 yrs and with the new one God has closed the doors. But Pastor Van Wick isn't listening apparently. Praying they will stop this nonsense, sell the vacant land and build the school elsewhere or let the kids go to another Christian school in the area, there are many to choose from.
seekeroftruth December 27, 2012 at 03:58 AM
I agree VWDS, lived here since late 80's. The church gave the planners $100,000 for what? read this article. This is Zoned AG, lets keep it that way http://www.pe.com/local-news/riverside-county/temecula/temecula-headlines-index/20120822-temecula-farmers-push-back-at-planning-session.ece

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