More winery rules floated by McHenry County Board members

WOODSTOCK – A Mc­Henry County Board committee spent more than 2½ hours Tuesday debating changes to a winery ordinance for which it recommended approval a month ago.

The Liquor and License Committee meeting resulted in at least seven proposed amendments to be introduced the night of the full County Board vote, and something of a reprimand for committee Chairman John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, from County Board Chairman Ken Koehler.

Koehler, who also serves as the county liquor commissioner, accused Hammerand of trying to micromanage the proposal by a husband-wife team to open a small winery southeast of Hebron. The long committee discussion included such vagaries as the alcohol content of port and whether the rhubarb plant – which can be used for flavored wines – is a fruit or a vegetable.

“You’re taking this to the nth degree; you absolutely are,” Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, told Hammerand. “You’re making it so much more than what it has to be.”

The protracted issue over whether to create a winery license has put the committee in the peculiar predicament of having substantive debate over a proposed ordinance after the vote. The slew of amendments sure to be proposed when the County Board votes on the ordinance next Tuesday came from two subsequent committee meetings.

Blue Star Vineyard owners Jeff and Sue Pankow first requested the classification in September so they could move forward with getting a permit to open a small winery on their land southeast of Hebron. The proposal stayed in committee for seven months until a majority decided that the Pankows had waited long enough and forced the vote.

The committee on April 10 recommended approval on a 3-2 vote, with a majority of Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, John Jung, R-Woodstock, and Bob Bless, R-Fox River Grove, outweighing Hammerand and Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard.

Wheeler, Jung and others have accused Hammerand of trying to kill the proposed business through the delay and subsequent amendments. Hammerand denies the allegation, saying that the ordinance as first proposed was weak and would create spot zoning for bars and taverns in agricultural areas.

Many of the amendments proposed Tuesday were first discussed at a May 1 special meeting after the full County Board meeting. The most significant is limiting the hours of operation to 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., rather than the 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. limit afforded to bars.

Other amendments include limiting the sample size to one ounce, limiting people to six pours per person per day, requiring the Pankows to devote time to wine education if they host corporate events, and limiting the alcohol content of fortified wines such as port to 20 percent.

Bless was absent Tuesday and Wheeler left for another commitment about 90 minutes into the meeting. Hammerand and Evertsen crafted the proposed amendments.

The Pankows already have agreed to proposals such as limiting hours of operation and undergoing state training aimed at helping vendors curtail underage drinking and overserving. But they grew more visibly uncomfortable with the discussion as it stretched into two hours.

“It seems like everything and anything is going to be thrown against the wall [Tuesday], just to see if it will stick,” Jeff Pankow told Koehler and Jung after the meeting.

If the license classification is approved, the Pankows will next have to go through the Zoning Board of Appeals for a conditional use permit to open a winery, given that zoning ordinance presently does not have a winery classification for land zoned for agriculture.

What’s next

The McHenry County Board will vote next May 15 whether to create a “Class W” liquor license to allow for wineries that can ferment up to 50,000 gallons of wine a year and hold tastings.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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