Friday, December 1, 2017

NIMBY wine wars erupt over a funeral at a California winery

The Disunited States sucks right now. I'm saying this as a guy who wrote my Thanksgiving wine column for Palate Press about how we should all just get along.

Then I took a look at the comments on this story about a winemaker's funeral in Santa Barbara County. There's something really wrong with this country, and this story and the comments encapsulate it.

First, the setup. Winemaker Seth Kunin died unexpectedly last month of a heart attack at age 50. Patrick Comiskey wrote a nice obit of Kunin for the LA Times. Kunin was a beloved guy in the chummy Santa Barbara winemaking scene.

Naturally, people who worked with him wanted to hold a memorial service. Larner Vineyard offered to host it. This was a great location because Larner Vineyard has for years sold its grapes to young winemakers just starting out, thus helping to foster that community.

Larner Vineyard had fought with neighbors when it wanted to open a winery and tasting room. I am not taking a position on this. Santa Barbara County can be very NIMBY*, but I have driven on Ballard Canyon Road to Larner Vineyard and it does require attentiveness. That said, the permit was issued; the vineyard and winery are open (albeit not for drop-in tasting). And earlier this month, more than a year after the zoning decision, the memorial service was scheduled.

(* Not In My Back Yard; people who don't generally oppose development but don't want it next to them)

Knowing how popular Kunin was, the Larners hired traffic attendants to staff the memorial service. The service was popular enough that the parking lot filled and about a dozen cars had to park out on the road. Not an ideal situation on Ballard Canyon Road, but there were parking attendants, and it was not exactly a wine-release party.

Someone anonymously filed a complaint with the county, claiming the Larners violated their winery permit by hosting a big event that caused traffic disruptions. The Larners counter that it wasn't an event for commercial purposes. The county will investigate.

Why I'm writing this blog post: the aggressive, nasty tone of the comments from one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. People who live in Santa Ynez Valley, in or around Ballard Canyon, they live in paradise. And they're in California: they should be doing yoga, smoking soon-to-be legal weed and coexisting.

Instead, here are a few snippets:

"I am disgusted that this HAG would stoop so low."

"I know that this is blasphemy--especially in a world where the consumption of alcohol is a national past-time, but I remember how the neighbors in that area did NOT want wineries in their area, and there was a big battle over this, but they forced their way into what was once a quite, peaceful area. (And those neighbors pay a lot of money to get away from the rowdy drunk scene)"

"It's not "blasphemy," it's just a stupid thing to say in this thread about a neighbor filing a complaint about a memorial service."

"Calling someone's comment "stupid" because you dislike their point of view is not helpful and contributes nothing of value."

"I'm sorry, I meant "insensitive and off topic." There, do you understand now?"

"May I pose this scenario: Joe Blow the local beloved mechanic dies, and his family wants to hold a gathering at their home. There's not a lot of room for everyone to park, so the cars spill out into the surrounding neighborhood, creating overcrowding on the street ... So, do Joe Blow's family and friends get a pass because Joe was a great guy, a pillar of the community and everyone loved him? Probably not. Joe Blow was a mechanic. He wasn't wealthy and he wasn't part of the exalted wine industry." 

"I am 99% certain that unless Joe the Mechanic's neighbors are gigantic jerk faces, nobody would complain about that either. Then again, given that Joe was so beloved and his neighbors weren't invited, they probably are big enough jerk faces to complain."

"I attended the event. Although there were parking attendants, they ran out of space to park cars so about a dozen were parked alongside the road, far enough off the pavement so no traffic was blocked. As far as your Joe Blow analogy, none of the neighbors park on the street."  

"So what I hear is that if a grieving family has money to hire attendants for their loved ones post funeral gathering, then the neighbors have no rights to peace, quiet, and a place to park. Did I read that correctly?"

"horrible neighbors. they need to die or go somewhere else"

And then this just weird conclusion, at the time I'm writing this anyway ...

"AVA= American Viticultural Area the SYV has 9 of the 107 or so recognized in the state. It's part of what creates the distinction of diversity to define our great wine region."


I mean, a guy died, people loved him but we ALL HATE EACH OTHER!!!! At least we have "our great wine region."

What's wrong with us?

Today instead of saying follow me on social media blah blah, I'll say, Take that tiny amount of energy and use it to say something nice to somebody. Anybody.


Eureka Information Technology said...

It is sad and not a problem that is going to be fixed quickly or easily.
Earlier today I saw a video of Bruce Springsteen taking a four year old girl on stage and letting her sing into the microphone for a bit. I enjoyed it not only for the music and cute factor, but because it really made me long for more moments when people spontaneously get along and make a moment special.
Maybe it is happening all over the country, but you'd never know it looking at the news.

Old Wine Guy said...

Based on my Sonoma County experience as a grower and winery operator (retired now) the NIMBY neighbors always want a free "vineyard view" next door. But from their POV, no actual active agriculture or winery operations there. Spraying, pruning, harvesting? Hispanic farmworkers? The horror! A fake backdrop would be just fine for them. Most recent arrivals (say after 2000 or so) see wine country as sort of an exclusive, VIP theme park which they can turn off and on when they desire it. But as an actual, vibrant agri-business area? Not so much. Now, I agree that some wineries have become "event wine bar mills" due to the difficulty of actually selling the wine at a profit, but...

Mine Lamps said...

Fiends of mine own a winery and I help out there often, it is located in a agricultural zone.
A neighbor, wished to open a hair salon, and was denied as a hair salon since it is not agricultural. The neighbor has done everything she can to shut the winery down. Noise samples on adjoining property, taken to disrupt events at the winery, are quieter than a herd of cattle, a plowing tractor, or a rodeo if one were held on the property. But my friends were forced to open a second location, at considerable expense, because the state liquor regulations can force your alcohol business to close if there are numerous complaints, regardless if it is only one complainant with daily complaints.

W. Blake Gray said...

Ugh, Retired Boss, that is a terrible story, but not a surprising one.