After some complaints against them, Roblar Winery and Rideau Vineyard are in the throes of discussions with the county regarding permitting and zoning conditions that will allow them to sell food.

Since both wineries are in unincorporated areas, they must work with the county on permit and zoning regulations.

Restaurants cannot be established in an agriculture zone, and because both wineries offer food in some form, there is some debate about the legality of their food sales.

Planning and Development Supervising Planner John Karamitsos is currently reviewing each case. He said according to county land use development code, all food service at a winery must be associated with the primary purpose of wine production and wine tasting.

Wineries must meet certain conditions based on their size and production, among other criteria, and depending on the category in which they belong, are allowed only a certain number of special events per year. Special events can include the sale of food, and those special events are limited to eight, 12, or 40 per year, depending on the category.

Roblar Winery has a cooking school, wine-paired lunches and wine-paired Sunday brunch.

Rideau Vineyard also features wine-paired lunches and special winemaker dinners once a month. Each could have other special events throughout the year, as well.

Both wineries are licensed to have commercial kitchens, but that doesn’t mean they can run restaurants.

Karamitsos said the wineries say these meals are offered with wine, are secondary to the main business of the winery, and are regular tasting room activities, not special events.

At least some people, however, feel differently because complaints were filed against the wineries, claiming they were violating permit and zoning regulations.

Due to confidentiality issues, Karamitsos would not say who filed the complaints.

Karamitsos said food service at a winery is a gray area, and planning staff is working with the wineries to define what is insularly or accessory.

“In the day-to-day operating associated with a wine tasting room, all food service must be secondary to the primary purpose, which is tasting the wine,” he said.

Those who do not want food service available at wineries may claim that for food to be secondary to wine sales, it must be sold with wine. While the wineries pair meals with wine, currently the food can still be purchased without the purchase and consumption of wine.

Rich Foster, the general manager with Roblar Winery, said legally he cannot force people to buy wine if they want food. While there is an occasional person who just wants a meal, though, he said most people do drink the wine with the wine-paired meals.

“The key is that everything is paired with wine, food is designed with the wine and meant to be paired,” Foster said.

He said he is on board with working with the county to clarify food being sold, and while he understands some opponents worry restaurants will start popping up on agriculture land, that is not the case.

“Food for us is not our bread and butter, he said. “Wine is our bread and butter.”

There were some complaints about Roblar’s brunch, Foster said, so working with the county, Roblar modified how it conducted and marketed the brunch. As far as the cooking school goes, the winery will probably request a use permit for it, since schools are allowed on agriculture land.

“Until the county gets more specific on the cooking school issue, we will get a conditional use permit,” he said. “It’ll take us out of the gray and into the black and white, so we’ll be fine there.”

Roblar supports the use of agriculture land for agriculture use, he said, and much of the food served at the winery is grown on the winery itself or bought locally.

Doug Anthony, the zoning administrator deputy director, said the way the zoning code is written requires a case-by-case study to determine compliance.

Site-specific circumstances can be allowed, he said, but the county also has to address and consider any concerns of the public.

Karamitsos said he is expecting Roblar to apply for a revision of its permit for the cooking school, and is working with both Roblar and Rideau to clarify and confirm their food service is associated with their wine tasting.

Foster said it is an ongoing process with the county. He said he thinks food offered at wineries is a good idea because it can help slow down the effects of wine and make tasting a more sophisticated and pleasurable experience.

“I don’t like to see wineries just becoming places to get drunk, rather than spots to get educated about wine and food and slow down and raise the quality of experience for everybody.”

Reach Lauren Crecelius at lcrecelius@syvjournal.com.