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Fauquier County restrains some activities at vineyards
THERE WAS a collision of sorts in Fauquier County this month. The county's new and growing wine industry ran headlong into Fauquier's long-held desire to preserve rural living. The fallout--both political and legal--may be just beginning.
Virginia has become a premier wine state, with 193 wineries adding $747 million in cash sales to the state's coffers in 2010. Fauquier, which had just three wineries 10 years ago, today hosts 26. Inevitably, this explosion of the grape has produced growing pains.
Over the last four decades, as other counties have seen huge population surges, Fauquier has cleaved to a comprehensive plan that limits growth and pushes commercial interests to defined areas. In the '80s and '90s, when subdivisions were popping up all over, developers pushing out from Loudoun and Prince William counties jumped right over Fauquier to Culpeper County, all because of Fauquier's limitations on growth. Thanks to a purchase-of-development-rights program and several very active citizen groups, more than 92,000 acres are conserved as agricultural in Fauquier.
Farm wineries would seem to fit right into the Fauquier scenario. But in trying to make a go of it, vintners often host weddings and special events, bringing cars and tourists, bright lights, and sometimes amplified music to the lush, quiet hills of Fauquier wine country.
After a five-year fight between rural conservation groups and winery interests, the county on July 12 curbed some activities at vineyards. The new rules try to balance the need for farm wineries to turn a profit with the "expectations of property owners adjacent to farm wineries to the peaceable enjoyment of their properties"--while heeding state laws that hinder localities' regulation of the industry.
The owners of two wineries, Linden (one of the oldest) and RdV (one of the newest) backed the ordinance. RdV's Rutger de Vink thinks wineries should focus on their agricultural roots, not become event centers. Others vociferously dissent, claiming that the county is trying to put them out of business.
But the ordinance affirms a longstanding county value: maintaining Fauquier's rural nature, even at the cost of some economic growth. The wineries shouldn't have been surprised--it's the same stone wall builders hit in the '80s and '90s. And it's part of what makes Fauquier refreshingly distinctive.