VANCOUVER – Several small wineries in Clark County are in danger of closing as early as Sunday.
Joe Millea owns Moulton Falls Winery in Yacolt, Washington. Millea and about four other winery owners received letters from Clark County in December saying they didn't have the required permits and had to close in ten days.
Moulton Falls Winery started as a small business in 2012 producing a half-dozen barrels of wine at first. They’ve grown quickly and plan to produce as much as 36 barrels of wine next year. A German wine they produce with Limburger grapes won gold and double gold prizes at last year’s Vancouver Wine Fest.
Now, Millea said all that might have to shut down.
Millea he said he's been trying for years to get all his permits, ever since he got a verbal commitment from the county in January of 2012 to build his winery and tasting room in a barn he had on his property. He said he’s filed $6,000 in permits already but the county told him they’ve expired. That’s money he won’t get back, according to Millea.
“We can't get a straight answer and that's why we're losing sleep over this thing,” Millea said. “We would love to do whatever the county wants us to do. Just give us a list. Make it clear that this is what we need to do and we'll do it!”
The county said the wineries shouldn’t have opened their doors to the public before they had their permits in place.
"Any business that opens to the public should have permits by the state and county before they open their doors," said Clark County Community Development Director Martin Snell. “That has to be consistent across the board.”
Snell said he found it hard to believe Millea got a verbal commitment to build without a permit. But he does admit that sometimes the county does permit after the fact.
The county has over a dozen wineries and Snell said that if the unpermitted wineries are to be in compliance by this spring they need to get their paperwork in now. Snell said the county was trying to work with owners.
Millea, however, said the process has been a nightmare.
"Oregon's wine industry started in people’s bedrooms and they've built it into a multi-million dollar, if not multi-billion dollar industry," Millea said. "All we're saying to the county is 'let us get our feet on the ground.'"
The impacted owners said they will meet with one another on Monday to discuss their options.