Wineries, events and zoning

Think about the most perfect job. What are the first few things that come to mind? For many it is #1: make lots of money and #2: love what you do. We encounter many entrepreneurs, each day and many have found their passion.

Among these business owners, we are particularly intrigued winery owners because they invested not only financially, but also personally in what they do. Their love for what they do translates into their product and reels us in every single time.

As with many businesses, with passion comes cost, and in the competitive wine market that is the Finger Lakes, many wineries make their mark by demonstrating the unique value their wine brings to the table. By doing this, they are able to find the perfect balance and create their perfect job.

One of the greatest things about wine is that it is very flexible and can have a place almost anywhere; snuggling up by the fire reading a book or having a glass or two (or three) during a night out on the town. The flexibility of the drink gives winery owners a unique opportunity to expand their business without taking the passion out of their work.

Depending on the size of the property, renting out the property for different special events allows wineries to showcase their wine while offering an additional service to their customers – FUN! Some of the most common related activities include festivals, wagon rides, wine tastings and even weddings.

Sounds great! So why isn’t everyone doing this? Well, the fun part is great, but it can only be successful if the rules are followed. One of the first things that need to be addressed is the rules of the Department of Agriculture and Market.

Wineries that are within agricultural districts certified by the state usually have their applications reviewed at random by the Department in order ensure that zoning rules and regulations are being correctly followed. One of the more important factors that is given a lot of weight is revenue. Events consisting of vendor fees, or rent paid for use of the facility create revenue – of course that is one of the reasons for expanding into the world of special events. The key is to make sure that the income produced from the vendor fees do not exceed the revenue received through the annual sales of the wine and wine-related products of the farm winery. Simply put – remain a winery, not an event venue.

Combining special events and wines from the winery can also be a great opportunity to market the winery and its products. With events like these – where they are open to the public and do not require any rental or vendor fees – the Department of Agriculture and Markets uses a different review method. Still an ad hoc review, they look to the purpose of the event rather than the revenue collected. In these cases, the main purpose of the event should be the marketing of the winery and its wine related products (as opposed to showcasing the property as a great wedding venue).

Areas that do not have zones designated for agricultural purposes by the state are governed by the municipality. The municipality decides whether or not they will allow special events in general and usually limit the number of special events per year. Permits and other local requirements vary from town to town. Consulting an attorney when you are unsure what you are permitted to do and where can help you comply with the different rules and regulations. The procedures and required information vary vastly. Consulting an attorney to help you navigate through the various requirements could save time and effort during this process.