A decision by the Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners to amend the county's land use map to allow a local winery to operate as intended in Brainerd gives wine connoisseurs something to cheer.
The Dennis Drummond Wine Co. opened last year, but the county's first winery ran into permitting problems regarding wine production on site, which should no longer be an issue.
"In 2016, the commercial building and accessory structure and septic were all constructed ... and have been sitting there since," Land Services Natural Resource Manager Jacob Frie told the board about the former farm field.
"Since that time, however, the state of Minnesota enacted a rule where wine-making needs to be in a district that the state considers compatible for a wine-making license, which in this case would be 'agricultural/forestry district.'"
Emslie Drummond LLC and Sunny Section, A Partnership, own the Long Lake Township property and requested the zoning change approved at the Tuesday, Nov. 13, meeting. The business planned to have a May 6, 2017, grand opening and has operated as an event center that can cater up to about 300 guests, but the company could not make wine until now.
"The proposal is to literally carve ... and create this new zoning area for agricultural/forestry at the back end of the building, so they can go ahead and make their wine," Frie explained.
The land use map amendment approved Tuesday changes almost an acre of the winery from "commercial 2"-and 9 acres zoned "rural residential 2.5"-to "agricultural/forestry district," so the winery can do business in the township without running afoul of state regulations.
Construction on the Dennis Drummond Wine Co. on the southwest corner of Thiesse Road and Highway 25 began in the summer of 2016-with a grand opening slated April 1, 2017.
"In July of 2009, the Board of Adjustment/Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for the establishment of this vineyard, winery and event center," Frie said.
The wine company was not approved for a farm winery license, which permits the sale of wine produced on site. Although the business owners did not intend to grow their own grapes to produce their wine, agricultural land is required for licensure.
"This is in my district, and I am very supportive of this," Commissioner Paul Koering said about the land use map amendment. "The Drummonds have been running a great business down there. I think it's great for the community, the community is very supportive of it."
The agricultural land zoning classification requirement was not part of the state law when Dennis and Jody Drummond first purchased the property in 2009 with plans to build a winery.
"The Drummonds have actually had their wine-making equipment just sitting idle because of this debacle, I guess, and it wasn't necessarily Crow Wing County's fault. It was partly the state's," Koering said.
The basis for the farm winery license denial, according to the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, was state law requiring farm wineries be operated by the owner of a Minnesota farm or on agricultural property.
"My understanding is that between 2009 when the conditional use permit was approved and where we are today that there was a change by the state of Minnesota between that time," Frie said.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said, "This is not a reflection on our fine planning and zoning office. It's a reflection on, once again, the state changing the rules in the middle of the game and having us go through some more exercises."
The Long Lake Township Board of Supervisors strongly supported the petition to rezone the property to allow them to function as a winery and event center. A permit was issued in 2016 for an 18,271-square-foot commercial building to be used as a winery.
"I would say when I saw that tract out in the boonies, and I thought, 'They're going to make a winery here? Come on!' I thought that was so far-fetched," Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said.
"And now to see it as all of these-I've been to wedding receptions, a lot of gatherings there, and it's a wonderful place and a real asset to our community. I am thrilled about it."
Koering then made the motion for the county board to approve the land use map amendment. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen seconded the motion, and it was passed unanimously.