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County reviews wine-friendly plan
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Forsyth County News
Wineries could sprout up in Forsyth County if the county commission approves a proposed addition to local alcohol laws.

The new wording closely mirrors the state code for wineries, said County Attorney Ken Jarrard.

Per state law, farm wineries can be on property that is substantially agricultural. At least 40 percent of a winery’s annual production must take place on the property.

The rules would also allow for tasting rooms and sale of bottles of wine to take home, though wine could come only from that farm or other Georgia farm wineries.

Commissioner Patrick Bell first floated the idea to the commission in December on a suggestion from a farm owner in his district who is interested in opening a winery.

After seeing a presentation from the Georgia Wine Council at his Rotary Club meeting, Bell thought the county could benefit from north Georgia “agro-tourism.”

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said Wednesday. “It’s nothing too intrusive. It will allow us to keep the rural area.”

The farm owner, Paul Castell, operates Castell Family Vineyard and Winery on Lake Lanier. If the ordinance were to pass, he hopes to be able to open his vineyard to the public.

Castell wants to be able to bottle and sell his wine, though he added he’s not looking to open a large attraction with tasting rooms.

“Anyone that’s a big production, I don’t really see that happening in Forsyth County,” he said. “It’s going to be more of a hobby winery type thing, because we just don’t have the land to do it.”

The county is on the edge of the best area in Georgia to grow European grapes. The altitude and climate needed to prevent grape disease is more favorable in the north Georgia mountains.

In Dawson and Lumpkin counties, wineries big and small have sprouted up quickly, especially over the last 10 years, Castell said.

“For Forsyth County to be on the wine highway is a positive revenue potential,” he said.

County resident Tony DeMaria keeps a small vineyard for personal use on his property.

He’s not that interested in going commercial, but said he has heard about other county residents with small wineries who may welcome the change.

DeMaria said local wineries get quality wine, and the climate and elevation in Forsyth’s northwestern corner could be ideal for grapes.

“Overall, for the county, we should do it,” he said. “We want industry, we want a lot of things, but it’d be nice to maintain that rural environment.”

During a work session Tuesday, commissioners debated the details of a winery ordinance, including the price of a winery license, addition of a restaurant and origins of the wine sold.

They then directed staff to look into how businesses could be zoned and licensed for a restaurant or outside alcohol sales.