Vineyards in the Foothills

    What do you want Eagle to look like in twenty years?

    Written by Catrine McGregor

    Though anything meant to be done in moderation is sometimes abused, there are individuals who will forget that the keyword in a “tasting room” is the word tasting.

    “Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event. You’re not downing a glass of wine in the midst of doing something else.” – David Hyde Pierce

    This statement speaks volumes. The simple thought of being at a winery conjures up the calm enjoyment of friends or lovers sharing a good bottle of wine surrounded by vineyards on a sunny day while maybe listening to a Norah Jones playlist. Living in a world of chaos and constant hustle, doesn’t an afternoon at a winery sound really, really good?

    If you are reading this article, there is a good chance that you are an Eagle resident, which begs you to think ahead about the community and the environment that you will be leaving to your children and your grandchildren.

    William Stanley’s family moved to Southern California from Texas after the depression. “My dad was an independent oil man in Wichita Falls and to put it bluntly, we were extremely wealthy – until the depression. We sold what we could and moved to Southern California for a better life,” reminisces Stanley. “We had just enough money to buy a ten-acre orange grove with an old house on it. We went from a mansion to a two-bedroom house – and those were the happiest days of my life. We were a family – we worked long hours, but we did it together,” Stanley waves his hand as if inhaling a heavenly perfume, “If anyone has experienced the scent of orange blossoms, they know how magical it is.”

    In the early 1960s, the family was made “an offer they couldn’t refuse,” and sold the ten-acre parcel to developers. “What I would give to still have that property – not so much for the financial value, but for my soul.”

    This story is a precautionary tale for Eagle residents. It is only a matter of time before the foothills contiguous to Eagle city will be annexed. At this time, zoning for the construction of homes is a minimum of five acres. These numbers are changing as developers put in access to water and sewer. Once a piece of land has access to both water and sewer, the zoning will change to four homes on a one-acre lot or more. Much like Southern California was during post-depression, Eagle is a destination to move to. A great quality of life, wonderful restaurants, community events, hiking, and many personal freedoms that are absent in so many other places are the pillar of life in Eagle.

    Those personal freedoms can put the community at odds, and the quest for permitting of more wineries marches on with both supporters and detractors.

    One legitimate concern is that of people consuming wine in the foothills and then driving home.  There have certainly been accidents caused by people driving after consuming too much wine at a tasting room, be it in Napa Valley, the Loire Valley, or Tuscany. This is undeniable. Though wine is not hard liquor, it typically contains 12 percent alcohol. Most tasting rooms offer one to two-ounce pours, and the average quantity of tastings in a flight is six glasses. A restaurant typically pours 5 ounces, which means that if one indulges in one flight of wine, they have on average consumed one and a half to two glasses of wine during the tasting. Though anything meant to be done in moderation is sometimes abused, there are individuals who will forget that the keyword in a “tasting room” is the word tasting.

    Obviously, a percentage of people leaving a wine tasting room will have over-indulged, just as they would at a restaurant, or especially, a bar.

    Hailey Minder, co-owner of 3100 Cellars, and maker of scrumptious sparkling wines is an advocate for her community. She and her family care more about making a small quantity of great sparkling wines than making massive amounts of bubbly. They care about how their vineyards fit into the community. They are very aware of wanting to protect their neighborhood. “There’s a bit of an irony,” states Hailey, “That the serving of food will be highly regulated. I understand the neighbors not wanting the tasting room to turn into a full-service restaurant, and, trust me – that is the last thing we would want to take on!”.

    Researchers at Duke University state: “If one drinks alcohol with food in the stomach, the pyloric sphincter separating the stomach from the small intestine closes to allow the food to be digested by stomach acid. Since the alcohol can’t move into the small intestine immediately, this slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream considerably. In fact, a fatty meal can reduce the peak blood alcohol concentration (BAC) up to 50% relative to that produced when alcohol is consumed on an empty stomach.”

    Fatty foods are the best type of food to help absorb the alcohol. A charcuterie board with local cheeses and cured meats is a perfect solution. Maybe Ada County should consider making such a snack a mandatory element of the Conditional Use permit (CU).

    3100 Cellars’ wines are currently sampled at Telaya Wine Co in Garden City and the plans for making their wines at their vineyard and having a tasting room just north of the city of Eagle’s boundaries, is but a future vision.

    Mark Pasculli of Rolling Hills Vineyard would very much like to eventually see a small tasting room at his vineyard, also just north of the city of Eagle.

    As I stand overlooking the five acres of vineyards, I can’t help but think of what 20 houses would look like that we will soon see on surrounding 5-acre lots. Besides the fact that there will certainly be more alcohol consumption and traffic in a 20-home development than there will be at a vineyard/winery/tasting room, I look at the sprinklers going off at surrounding homes and I think of water consumption. Many Louis L’Amour novels have addressed water wars in the old west – and with the drought situation being severe, water was, is, and will always be a precious asset.  When asked how much water his five-acre vineyard uses, Pasculli responded: “I think we used our water system three- or four times last season.”

    Another opposition to interspersing vineyards with homes is that it will bring property values down. I would tend to think that anyone saying this has never been to a wine-producing region, where real estate tends to be at a premium. Melisa Cull, of Birch Leaf Realty, tells me:” As a neighbor and local Realtor, I have searched for, but have been unable to find any numbers or analysis to support the idea that wineries decrease the value of surrounding properties.  In fact, areas like Walla Walla saw an increase in property value of 23.1% year over year for the last five years as their wine industry boomed.

    The proposed wineries in Eagle contribute to the preservation of open space meaning less development, which measurably increases property values.  For example, using IMLS data for the past 24 months in Eagle, single-family homes on five-acre lots north of Beacon Light, which are surrounded by other five-acre properties, on average sold at prices 33% higher than their counterparts south of Beacon Light, which are surrounded by home on smaller lots.

    These beautiful properties, providing picturesque landscapes and places for neighbors to gather, contribute to and preserve what makes Eagle stand out in the Treasure Valley”.

    Bill Lynch, of the Sonoma News, points out another positive impact “Vintners throughout California have witnessed the effectiveness of grapevines as natural firebreaks. In the 2017 fires, there were many reports of fast-moving blazes burning or damaging the first few rows of a vineyard, then stopping.” Mark Pasculli adds: “While this is devastating for the industry, we place more value on human life. This effect, while costly, may have assisted with saving lives, and citizens’ homes and private property.”

    Lisa Gandiaga, Hilton Regional Manager, is excited about the boost in hospitality dollars that wineries will bring to Eagle. “I recently met with Martha at Three Horse Vineyards and I was surprised to learn of the number of wineries in the Eagle area,” states Gandiaga, “It’s a unique characteristic of Eagle that will hopefully bring more visitors to our area…I feel the burgeoning wine scene is a great way to promote tourism in Eagle. It will positively impact hotels, restaurants, and local businesses.”

    As mentioned above, the vineyards located just north of Homer will most probably be annexed into the city of Eagle within the next few years.

    According to the City of Eagle’s Comprehensive Plan, subtitled “Eagle is Home:”

    6:19:1

    1. Encourage and preserve active agriculture within the Rural Planning Area.  Agriculture-related business (roadside stands, u‐pick crops, wine crushing facilities, tasting rooms, equestrian uses, and related meeting facilities) should be considered in concert with agricultural uses.
    2. The City should discourage the subdivision or splitting of active and/or irrigated farmland within the Rural Planning area.    The City should establish ordinances that limit the development of lands with active agricultural exemptions and prime farmland as established by the USGS.
    3. Viticulture and associated uses (crushing facilities, tasting rooms, and limited events facilities) should be encouraged in the Rural Planning Area and the Eagle Foothills AVA.   

    I found this Section through a cursory search, yet many citizens objecting to the development of vineyards and wineries in the Eagle Foothills state that they were unaware of such provisions when vetting Eagle before moving to the area. The city of Eagle’s support of viticulture is not insinuated – it is widely addressed in its Comprehensive Plan. When Mark Pasculli first looked at buying the property that Rolling Hills Vineyard is now on, what intrigued him the most was the sign clearly posted on the property: “Eagle Foothills AVA. (American Viticultural Area)” Winemakers in the area don’t have issues with the Ada County verbiage about the wine business – until they try to bring the project to fruition. Literally.

    In order to implement the ability to have a tasting room at the vineyard, the property owners need to get a Conditional Use Permit (CU). The CU allows for a tasting room, as long as it is a part of a winery, and does not limit the amount of people that could visit or the hours they could operate.  The CU does limit the number of promotional events on the property to 24 per year with fewer. The permit granted to 3100 Cellars allows for a tasting room to be open to ten people per day on weekdays and 30 people on weekends, five days per week. The tasting room will only be open five hours per day, with conditions on what the hours would be.

    Once the Ada County Planning & Zoning Commission has approved the CU, the vineyard owner needs to get approval for the tasting room from 75% of their neighbors. This can be tricky, as many neighbors are not fans of having a tasting room next door. Ada County is considering removing this stipulation but has not done so as of this writing.

    Hailey Minder of 3100 Cellars says: “We would like to host two wine pick-ups per year, which typically include a tasting and light bites. Sometimes, we have pairing meals. The events would require permission to host all of our members – and that number is over 50. Because of this, Ada County required us to add an “event center” designation to our CU. That designation is what has made our application contentious for the neighbors.”

    Neighbors have already reported nuisances with events from other event centers already in existence. No one wants to be disturbed in their home or on their deck by loud voices or music. These complaints are legitimate.

    Nothing in this world is black and white. There are pros and cons to all aspects of life, and the development of vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms is no exception. Like everything else in the United States, we are fortunate to have the ability to voice our opinion in an ethical and legal way, and you are all encouraged to do so at county meetings.

    In doing so, don’t forget to think through clearly what you want Eagle to look like in 20 years.

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