Too gourmet? Critics wage war on Kluge store

In March, Governor Mark Warner and a host of state dignitaries flocked to the intersection of Carter's Bridge and Blenheim roads for the grand opening of the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard Farm Shop. Visitors oohed over architect David Easton's country chic design and aahed over the Sergio Torres pastries.

But not all of vintner Patricia Kluge's neighbors are thrilled to have gourmet takeout at the winery tasting room.

Some don't like the idea of having Moroccan skewered shrimp, Maine crab cakes, or roasted vegetable cannelloni just down the road. They don't think it's appropriate to be able to buy an espresso or a raspberry charlotte in a rural area.

And an adjoining property owner has filed a complaint with Albemarle County, charging that the Kluge Estate Farm Shop constitutes more of a restaurant than a farm store, according to county spokeswoman Lee Catlin.

In February 2002, the Board of Supervisors approved a special use permit for this "farm sale facility" which allows displays and sales of agricultural and horticultural products produced on the farm.

"As long as 50 percent of your sales are from your farm, you can also sell companion items," says Bill Moses, Kluge's husband and CEO of Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard. "The wine is a farm product, and certainly more than 50 percent of our sales are from wine."

The Albemarle County Code offers little help with the definition of companion products.

"A complicating factor is that we don't have many farm sales stores," says Catlin. And in an area where most farm sales are from roadside stands open in the summer, she adds, "This one brings together elements we haven't seen before."

Moses agrees: "When they passed the farm sales code, they didn't have vineyards in mind."

Zoning inspectors have made a number of trips to the shop to see whether the haricot verts bundles, sweetbreads with herbed polenta, and layered opera cake are in violation. Catlin suggests great pastries may be an appropriate companion product for a winery– but that's yet to be determined by the county.

And if savories and sweets are not, the county will look at whether additional waivers or approvals are necessary, says Catlin.

"It was billed to the Board of Supervisors as a simple farm store where neighbors could bring baskets of produce to sell," says an area resident who declined to be identified. "I feel it's a gourmet restaurant that was sold as a farm store."

Moses believes that may be a communications problem.

"Neighbors bringing in produce without any demand and having a basket of carrots rotting on the front porch is a little simplistic," says Moses. "Patricia is contracting with area farmers to buy produce. If somebody wants to talk to us about selling their produce, that's fine. Nobody has."

Although some of the neighbors are also upset about Kluge's plans for a subdivision, their displeasure hasn't kept them from stopping in for a cup of coffee or takeout, says Moses.

The tables in the espresso bar were there for staff because they needed a place to eat lunch, he explains, under a sign that read, "Staff only." When customers wanted to sit there and sip their coffee, Moses called the county to see if it was okay. It was.

"We've already cleared the hump that this is not a restaurant," says Moses. There's no table service, but picnickers can grab a table outside on the grounds to nosh their takeout. And the store is set back from the road among the trees to maintain a low profile.

Ultimately, the decision about how to handle an upscale farm shop and wine tasting room will be left to zoning administrator Amelia McCulley, says Catlin, and a decision could come this week.

"The county has been very cooperative and knows this is something unique," says Moses. "I think everyone recognizes that this is a good idea– except a couple of neighbors."

 

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