In Oregon, zoning is a big deal. Environmentalists have been fighting urban sprawl in the Portland area for years, and each of the state's counties has its own restrictions on how land can be used.
As an example, on land zoned specifically for farm use, wineries historically have been banned from operating full-service restaurants.
That could change if the state Senate backs a state House-approved bill (3280).
But even though that bill passed by a 52-3 margin, it's still shrouded in controversy. The reason: Only wineries that produce at least 150,000 gallons of wine per year would be allowed to apply for a restaurant permit.
As Rep. Jim Weidner, one of the three representatives who voted against the House bill, told the Oregonian newspaper: "Essentially we are picking the winners and losers in this bill."
The minimum gallon requirement was meant to cap the number of restaurants that could be developed on winery sites, but in so doing, it would put the state's small wineries at a competitive disadvantage.
There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue, but if it were up to me, I'd give all wineries the opportunity to add a restaurant. Not all would, of course, but the bill as written provides a far from level playing field.
A few years ago, I took a road trip around South Australia, visiting dozens of wineries along the way. A good number of them had not only on-site restaurants, but also on-site lodging, referred to Down Under as "accommodations."
In not one case did the restaurants or the "accommodations" detract from the rural feel of the area. That's because great care was taken in designing the estates and their various features, so they would blend into the environs.
If the winery owners of Oregon agreed to take a similar approach--designing and building their restaurants with their surroundings at the forefront--it would be a win-win.
The wineries would benefit from a new revenue source. Consumers would benefit from new dining experiences. And the people of Oregon in general would benefit from additional tourism dollars.
Wine and food are natural partners. One is almost always better when accompanied by the other. If the proper care were taken to protect the environment and the scenery when adding restaurants to winery sites, Oregon could become one of the world's most popular destinations for wine lovers.