Cache County Council’s decision whether to allow wineries has been delayed once again with growing concerns of cultural shift, but little evidence has been found of negative consequences in other counties.
“I look at this as a cultural change to this valley,” said Council Member Dave Erickson. “Is Cache Valley ready for this cultural change? … And maybe we are. We’ve talked about the economy changes, about inviting outside people that come here for events and things like that, that we need to open up our culture a little bit more.”
This tapping of the brakes comes on the heels of the council’s last meeting, where concerns were raised that increased access to alcohol through wineries and tastings could lead to an increase in alcohol abuse and related issues.
“I think that is I think that stems more from a cultural perspective and a cultural concern than an actual land-use and governance concern,” said Jason Boal, who helped develop winery code amendments in Ada County, Idaho. “I understand that perception, but I’m not sure that there’s actually any data to validate that argument, and I think there are sound arguments against that argument.”
Cache County’s culture
John Luthy, the chief civil deputy attorney for Cache County, agreed and asked the council to consider the “branding” of the county.
“Is Cache Valley the place where you come in during the summer for the opera and that sort of thing, whatever the current branding is,” Luthy said at Tuesday’s meeting, “or is Cache County on the wine tour? That’s a cultural change as to how we brand our county for tourism and that sort of thing.”
But in a Facebook group for local “foodies,” many asked: why not both?
“Many people coming to Logan for summer cultural events would love additional activities,” one post read.
One commenter pointed out bike races and marathons also cause headaches for locals with increased traffic in rural areas, but the economic benefits are obvious.
A similar comment was made during a Cache County Council meeting following the success of the rodeo in September, where one of the fair’s organizers said the only complaint they heard from rodeo participants was there weren’t “beer gardens” in the area. Beer gardens are also a popular suggestion for marathons and bike races.
Ordinance 2021-05 would allow for wineries and hard cideries — which ferment alcohol made from berries, fruit or honey, as opposed to brewing beer or hard alcohol like vodka or whiskey — in unincorporated areas of the county. Proponents say the bill would preserve agriculture and open space in the county, because wine is more profitable than feed crops.
Boal, Ada County’s deputy director of development services, agreed.
“Wineries really provide a unique opportunity that I think we’ve lost with some of our agriculture, or we never had,” said the Michigan native who first started working in community planning in Heber. “Wheat farming isn’t something that people usually go out and want to spend a weekend at the wheat farm, yet at the same time, they’re like the same roots. The heritage is the same between the winery and the wheat farming with that agriculture.”
Since 2018, Boal worked with local wineries in Idaho to amend the county’s code to make the process more profitable and efficient in the area.
Another bonus is that Idaho has a statewide Grape Growers & Wine Producers Commission to designate areas fit for vineyards and lends prestige to the wineries present.
“By being recognized as an area that promotes wineries or has wineries, it brings in the tourism dollars,” Boal said. “The agritourism business is really big, and I think post-COVID, it’s going to continue to grow, as there are smaller facilities that can handle smaller groups. And so the agritourism really fits that niche really well.”
Another similarity between Ada County and Cache is the outdoor focus, Boal said.
“We have a strong focus on trails and the outdoors,” he said, “so wine tours really fit in that niche really well.”
Ada County has a population about three to four times Cache County’s size, and Boal said a better Utah-sister county comparison would be Utah County, but that wineries in the area are some of the only agricultural space left in the more urban to suburban county.
Council Member Paul Borup has spoken in support of the wineries in order to preserve as much of the existing open space in the county as possible before it’s lost to a similar urban sprawl.
Whatever the council decides, the state and the county are already feeling the effects of increased growth, as evidenced by skyrocketing housing prices.