Carmel looks to tighten wine tasting rules

Current rules are inconsistent for wine tasting rooms.

CARMEL, Calif. - Drinking, sipping, buying wines are happening more and more in one city.  A popular wine tasting destination is looking to tighten it's rules for newcomers. 

Carmel said it's seeing an increase in requests for tasting rooms.  It's all a part of the city's plan to become the wine-hub for Monterey County.  The city said the point is not to slow down business, but to increase it. 

City leaders aren't the only ones ready to address this issue.  Many residents said they don't want wine tasting rooms to turn into wine bars. 

Carmel said the rules for each tasting room are inconsistent, but there is a base set of rules.  Right now, there's nothing keeping wineries in other parts of the state from having their wines promoted and sold in the city.  Tasting rooms we spoke with said they want to keep the industry completely local.

"We spent a tremendous amount of energy building Monterey County wine, you know that brand and that can be challenged," said De Tierra Winery manager Anna Russell.

Carmel's planning commission is calling for a moratorium on any new wine tasting rooms coming into the city because the rules aren't specific enough.  Carmel said it's working with some concerned residents to make sure the city's wine draw doesn't turn into a rowdy party.  The city and tasting rooms say they want tasting to be about experiencing wine and buying bottles, and not turning into a bar scene.  Tasting rooms said the rules need to be cut and dry.

"Some people are allowed to do certain things, they're open certain hours and others have to close earlier.  Certain people have a certain amount of seats, while others have none," said Vino Napoli owner Richard Pepe.

Some rooms are open until 10 p.m., so the city is looking to create an earlier closing time across the board. 

"The council can get the rules all in one place and then when any future tasting rooms come in, you know we can all play by the same rules," Pepe said.

Carmel is also working to define the difference between a wine shop and a tasting room, so the rules for each can be appropriate. 

"So what we really want is to see 75 percent of the wines that a winery is offering to be from Monterey County if they are going to have a tasting room in downtown Carmel," Russell said.

Next week City Council members will look at the planning commission's recommendations before any final decision is made. 

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