In what played out like a battle between old agricultural values and new methods to monetize the industry, the bulk of Kelowna politicians sided with Summerhill Winery’s attempts to make ends meet.
“I think everybody is aware that it’s a difficult business—agriculture—but it is a business,” said Coun. Graeme James at Monday’s council meeting, before the majority voted in support of an application from the winery’s proprietors.
“And when it’s the off-season they have to do something and make money to produce their organic wines.”
The application was Summerhill’s request for council to support pulling the winery’s restaurant out of the Agricultural Land Reserve, and put more land within its boundaries.
The land swap would make way for them to apply for a Food Primary liquor licence, which would allow them to serve beer, liquor and spirits.
Currently, the winery can only serve wine, which was a measure the province enacted to help develop the industry.
While it reads like a simple transaction, city staff recommended that council members put the kibosh on the winery owner Cipes family’s efforts.
“The concern by staff, is that by taking (the wine-only restriction) away we are opening ourselves up to this happening with any winery,” said city staffer Shelly Gambecourt.
“It becomes a full-sized restaurant and competes with other restaurants and commercial enterprises within the city… at what point is enough enough in respect to commercial uses of agricultural land?”
Coming to terms with commercial enterprises on farmland is an issue council has become increasingly familiar with in recent years as more locals have tried to make hay out of a stagnating industry.
It’s something Coun. Luke Stack was drawn into last year when constituents asked him to step up and help them deal with a proliferation of RV sites popping up on agricultural land.
When the winery issue came to council he couldn’t help but draw parallels. “I have a high regard for Summerhill, but part of me is concerned about the conflict between agritourism and other agricultural enterprises in the valley,” he said.
“I think we will see more people wanting to do commercial operations on agricultural land.”
Summerhill general manager Ezra Cipes pointed out that council would have to approve each application separately, just as they had to make the application to start.
Furthermore, it’s not like the restaurant would be breaking new ground.
Quails’ Gate winery in West Kelowna is able to operate in the manner Summerhill is attempting to, he said, which means that wineries across the bridge have an edge.
“We are at a competitive disadvantage from other businesses and that’s a key reason why we are making this application,” he said.
“Our winery is an economic generator in this city…and we are a textbook example of how wonderful an agricultural business can be.”
But in the off-season, he said, they barely make ends meet. The ability to serve spirits and beer under their own licence would go a long way to rectify that situation, he said.
In the end, council believed that the change would amount to more of a gain than a loss, with only Stack voting against the application.