With an increase in the number of vineyards marketing themselves as venues for wedding receptions and special events, local governments across New York State have begun enacting legislation aimed at curtailing the marketing activities of vineyards, indicating that they are seeking to protect the health and safety of their communities. Some towns and villages now require vineyards to obtain special permits or even submit site plans, a process that can often be drawn-out and arduous, before permitting vineyards to host certain events. But can municipalities regulate the marketing activities of vineyards located in a local agricultural district? The answer is: it depends.
NYS Agriculture and Markets Law
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets recognizes the importance marketing plays in the success and economic viability of a vineyard. In fact, §301(11) of the Agriculture and Markets Law (“AML”) expressly acknowledges that “marketing activities” are part of the “farm operation” of a vineyard when the wine served at these events is composed predominantly of on-farm grapes and fruit. The Department has also determined that on-farm wedding receptions, charitable events and other similar undertakings constitute “marketing activities” and are thus protected and cannot be unreasonably restricted by local municipalities if the vineyard is located in a local agricultural district.
Events hosted by vineyards must be:
- directly related to the sale of the wine produced on-site
- be composed from at least 51% of the grapes harvested thereon
- be incidental to the retail sale of the wine sold
- hosted by the vineyard or a customer of the vineyard, not an unrelated third-party.
If these conditions are not met, the vineyard cannot avail itself of the protections afforded by the AML and will be subject to local zoning laws.
Municipality Rights & Limits
The Department will also allow local municipalities to require a vineyard to obtain a special use permit or subject itself to site plan review so long as the process is streamlined and not unreasonably burdensome or cost prohibitive. Local municipalities can also require certain information from the vineyard about the proposed event. For example a town or village may be interested in the date and time of a proposed event, the number of people expected to attend, security information, etc.
Should a vineyard find the process to obtain approval from the local government to be unreasonable or arbitrary and capricious, the Department may review the matter pursuant to its powers under §305-a of the AML.
Take-away for Vineyard Owners & Operators
It is important for owners and operators of vineyards to understand that not all marketing activities will be protected by the AML. Even more important is the requirement that vineyards maintain sufficient records which conclusively demonstrate that the marketing events hosted are incidental to the annual sales of the vineyard’s wine. Moreover, the local government may require the vineyard to submit an annual report that confirms the incidental nature of the marketing events.
The AML protects vineyards located within a local agricultural district from unreasonable regulations promulgated by municipalities and can be a good friend when a vineyard’s rights are being infringed upon.