Apples grow at Hobbled Dog Orchard in southern Cache Valley. Orchard owners Lori Spears and Ben Kuethe are applying for a license to start a winery.

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After several years of discussion and debate, the Cache County Council last month unanimously passed an ordinance allowing wineries in the valley, and the valley’s first commercial wineries may be licensed soon.

Ordinance 2021-21 will allow wineries — production of fruits, plants, honey, or milk, or other similar substances to produce wine — within Cache County. The winery will have to be an accessory to “Primary Agricultural Production” use and 51% of all produce must be within the boundaries of Cache County.

Additionally, retail sales, tours, wine-tasting facilities and related accessory promotional items are also permitted. No more than 15,000 cases of wine will be allowed per year.

The ordinance was originally reviewed by the council over the summer and sent back to county staff for revisions. The changes alleviated council members’ concerns.

“I’m pretty supportive of it,” County Councilman Paul Borup said during the September meeting. “It looks like they’ve addressed everything we’ve talked about.”

“They did a fantastic job,” Council Chairwoman Gina Worthen said.

The council also voted to strike conditional use from the FR40 and RR zones. This means that properties owned in these zones will have additional steps to take to get approval for wineries on their land.

Keith and Brenda Meikle, owners of Mt. Naomi Farms, grow and sell grapes. They have been heavily involved in the creation of the ordinance and the processes that took place to get to this point. The Meikles brought the ordinance to the county three years ago and have been helping ever since.

“It’s been through a lot of processes, a lot of sausage making,” said Keith. “It’s been the first alcohol ordinance the county has had, so I guess, break that ground.”

There was a fear of pushback from the community, but Keith said there has been plenty of support through emails and at public hearings. One of the biggest reasons the Meikles were interested was to compete with developers and maintain land needed to continue growing crops.

“We love growing grapes; we think the valley has a lot to offer. We lose about 50 acres a year to rental land, to developers, and so we’re just trying to create a sustain on less acres. ... We can’t keep doing what we’re doing, so can we create a viable agriculture entity on what land we do own that we have control over? Can we create a viable business that will keep our farm growing and possibly move on to the next generation?” Keith said.

The next step will be getting approved for a conditional use permit and consent from the county clerk’s office. Then the state can issue a winery manufacturing license. Additionally, interested parties will have to get licensing from the federal government.

The Meikles aren’t the only couple in Cache Valley excited by the passing of the ordinance.

Lori Spears and Ben Kuethe are the owners of Hobbled Dog Orchard and plan on opening a cidery. They attended meetings, spoke at the public hearings and sent emails to the County Council. Spears and Kuethe are also in the process of obtaining a conditional use permit.

“There’s this relief that they passed it and that they’re going to allow it just because I think it will be good for the valley,” Kuethe said. “But there’s of course stress about the process, although we were kind of expecting it and now it’s just one more thing to tackle and work through.”

Like the Meikles, Kuethe and Spears worry about development taking up land. Spears said several homes have been built since they moved in nearly six years ago.

“Our concern is that if these people sell this land, who are they going to sell it to and how many will come in? Are they gonna sell it to someone who wants to farm or just put up a house in a 10-acre field? It’s gonna be hard if this changes into a subdivision,” she said.

Kuethe also noted that it is difficult to have an orchard if you live in a crowded neighborhood. He hopes that opening a cidery will allow them to expand. Spears said she thinks it will also help preserve agriculture and increase agritourism.

The two hope the cidery works out and they will eventually be able to sell their product.

“I think it’d be nice to get it (cider) into local restaurants,” Kuethe said. Spears echoed his sentiments.

“Liquor stores might be hard, but for sure local restaurants,” she said.

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