If you’re at all interested in the wine industry and its effect on local communities, the Santa Barbara Independent and their story of a local wine ordinance being denied is well worth a read.
A little background. I went to school in Santa Barbara and lived there for about 5 years, so the region still feels extremely familiar to me. I also count Los Olivos, as among my favorite wine tasting destinations anywhere and Los Olivos is truly at the heart of this debate. Plus, we saw what happened with the Santa Barbara wine scene before and after Sideways happened, so the locals have some greater knowledge than most about how tourist dollars can find new homes, sometimes suddenly.
Ok, so Los Olivos is a small, small town of about a thousand full time residents that sits about 30 miles north of downtown Santa Barbara. It’s rural and before the wine industry found it, there was little more in town than a coffee shop and a restaurant or two.
Things have grown significantly and the reason why I like tasting there, is exactly where the concern from residents comes in.
There are about 30 tasting rooms in the small town, a wine shop, that same coffee shop, a handful of restaurants and art galleries. Things are growing and with the influx of tourists, there is a rather large push, mostly from outsiders to provide other tourist facilities. Fess Parker has a hotel, but that’s outside of town and removes the ability to taste while walking from your hotel.
Almost everyone I know in the region, at least 10-15 winery owners or winemakers thought this ordinance which sought to both stop new tasting rooms, but also to curtail larger scale development would pass, at least by the thinnest of margins. We’ve seen similar ordinances, much more strict in fact passed in Napa Valley among other spots in Europe and beyond.
Personally, I don’t think throwing the breaks on a bit, is a bad thing. But, there’s a need for more tourist oriented facilities. The locals are concerned about losing their rural way of life, but there hasn’t been any complaints about the tax dollars being brought in to this point.
Plus, there’s a huge push to make sure that traffic is safe. Wouldn’t creating a truly walkable downtown to house most of the tasting rooms help to accomplish that?
Overall, this seemed too restrictive in a region that is far, far from built out on any reasonable scale. I hope future versions of the Santa Barbara County supervisors board can come up with a reasonable plan that ensures Santa Ynez Valley feels like Santa Ynez Valley, but that accepts that tourists and tourist dollars need places to sleep and eat.