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Neighbors object to Minn. winery

A winery in the middle of a farming community is not a welcome sight for rural property owners Beth Slocum and Robert Brown.

But that will soon be the view from the southern edge of their land.

Goodhue County commissioners recently approved a conditional-use permit for a new winery and vineyard just south of Highway 19 off County Road 7 in Vasa Township.

Next spring, Stillwater, Minn., resident Drake Anderson plans on planting grapes on 30 acres he is purchasing from Jon and Jodie Simon. A $780,000 winery building will be built next.

The permit allows vineyard tours and other educational opportunities on the property but not special events like wedding receptions.

"It can be very successful and bring new revenue to the county as well as the state," Anderson said. "Hopefully it will be a profitable operation."

County staff has determined that vineyards and wineries are acceptable in agricultural areas.

Slocum and Brown disagree.

"A farming community is not the place to build and operate a commercial, retail establishment to sell wine and hold entertainment events," they wrote in a memo to the Goodhue County Planning Advisory Commission. "We don't think this is the kind of land use prime cropland meets with the desire of the county to maintain strong family farms in a well-supported farming community, as Vasa Township has been for generations."

Anderson told commissioners in October he had every intention of being a "good neighbor."

He said some residents in the area are under the impression his establishment will be an entertainment center, bringing in large amounts of traffic and noise.

"That's not the demeanor of what's going in," he said. "I'm not coming in with something totally new to the industry but it's new to the community. It takes some education and some communication to make it work."

Anderson said he will plant four acres of grape vines initially, adding more each year. At full production capacity in five years, the winery will process a maximum of 15,000 gallons of wine annually.

In their letter, Slocum and Brown asked the PAC to limit commercial activities, allowing only grape production and the processing plant.

Commissioner Ted Seifert said non-traditional forms of agriculture like grape growing and harvesting wind should not be singled out.

Seifert, who has been thrown his support behind wind farms and other county wineries, said rural landowners should be able to use their land as they see fit.

"I don't know why we make such a difference between growing beans and grapes, but we do," Seifert said. "I see it as an extension of agriculture."

Vasa Township officials originally denied Anderson's permit request but have since approved it with one condition - no alcohol can be sold on site. Internet sales are allowed.

Commissioners did not include such a provision in their permit, leaving township officials to restrict alcohol sales.