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Wineries in Oregon's Willamette Valley Oppose a New "Napa Valley"
Style Hotel; Claim the Land Needs to Be Preserved
 for Agricultural Use
By Dana Tims, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jun. 24, 2006 - A small but influential group of Oregon wineries has formed to fight approval of a boutique-style hotel on hilltop agricultural land in Yamhill County.

Members, who include some of the state's most highly regarded wineries, cite land-use concerns and worries about the disappearance of potential vineyards as reasons for trying to halt developer David Kahn's proposal for a high-end "Napa Valley"-style hotel between Dundee and Dayton.

The Yamhill County Planning Commission has approved Kahn's proposal to build a 50-room hotel, restaurant and spa on acreage now zoned exclusively for agriculture. The proposal goes to the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners on July 5.

If commissioners approve the proposal, which appears likely, opponents could take their case to the state Land Use Board of Appeals. Given the costs of such an appeal, the financial resources suddenly available from the anti-hotel winery owners could be important.

"We're in this all the way," said Jim Bernau, president and founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner. "The issues at stake are too important to ignore."

More such conflicts are bound to arise, Bernau said, as population pressures increase the likelihood that groups and individuals will want to build houses and other structures on land ideal for vineyards.

"Oregon agriculture will die from 1,000 tiny cuts if this doesn't get stopped," he said.

The coalition, collectively known as the Vintner's Coalition for Economic Progress, consists of 25 wineries. Members include Domaine Drouhin, one of Oregon's highest-end pinot noir producers, and a cluster of the state's oldest commercial wineries.

Kahn, who has picked up support from other wineries, noted that the coalition's membership represents only a fraction of the state's 350 commercial vintners.

He rejected the group's claims that the land in question, despite its zoning, should be preserved for agricultural uses.

"There was a hog farm and a quarry there for years," Kahn said. "It may be zoned for agriculture, but to the best of our knowledge, it has never been successfully farmed."

If the hotel is approved, he said, grapes will be planted in areas not taken up by the buildings.

Alex Sokol Blosser, coalition member and president of Sokol Blosser Winery in Dayton, said he has concerns about the proposal that reach beyond land-use issues.

The backbone of the Oregon wine industry, he said, is made up of small producers. Such startups would be the most likely to suffer if potential vineyard land is removed from production and paved over for commercial uses.

"David Kahn is a good guy who has no intention of harming the Oregon wine industry," Sokol Blosser said. "But when you take prime parcels of land so good for grapes out of the equation, you are, albeit subtly, harming this industry."


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Copyright (c) 2006, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

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