Everett rethinks boutique wineries

EVERETT — Chris and Linnea Covington’s attempt to start a small winery out of their north Everett home last fall turned sour when neighbors complained.

Everett officials cited the wine aficionados after trucks delivered pallets of wine grapes for a barefoot crush at the back of their Rucker Avenue home. Neighbors reported forklifts and the odor of grapes.

The Covingtons’ winery is on hold while the couple waits for a city hearing in March.

“It seems unfair to us,” Chris Covington said. “For a small business, times are tough. It was hard to get this going and we don’t have unlimited income.”

A solution may not be far down the road for the Covingtons and other boutique vintners who’d like to set up shop in Everett.

City officials are talking about how they might encourage wineries to set up tasting rooms and small retail spaces downtown. It’s part of a larger discussion about how Everett could be more flexible with the kinds of businesses it allows, especially in older buildings with basements and odd spaces that need tenants.

At the moment, it’s legal for a winery to set up a retail space or tasting room downtown and store barrels of wine in the back, said Kevin Fagerstrom, Everett code enforcement director. What’s not legal is producing the wine on site, he said.

The Covingtons briefly considered moving their winery to the back of their engineering business downtown on Rockefeller Avenue. They decided to withdraw their state liquor license application when they learned they still couldn’t produce wine at that location, Chris Covington said.

The city is rethinking that, said Lanie McMullin, the city’s economic development director.

Traditionally, wineries and breweries were large-scale operations more fit for industrial parts of town than a downtown filled with shops and restaurants.

With boutique wineries popping up across the state, it makes sense to allow vintners to produce wine in small batches in the back of a building and sell the product out front — the same as bakeries and artisan chocolate shops, she said.

“The face of ‘garage wines’ has changed,” she said. “People like and collect them.”

What the city isn’t interested in doing is allowing production without a tasting room or shop, McMullin said. Downtown needs to remain inviting for shoppers.

Building owners trying to find tenants first brought up the idea of changing city codes to allow more business types downtown, said Allan Giffen, Everett’s director of planning and community development. Everett’s many old buildings contain plenty of basements and off-alley spaces that might work just fine for a small industrial operation.

City staff are just beginning now to make codes more flexible and any changes wouldn’t happen for at least six months, he said.

Meanwhile, the Covingtons plan to dispute the violations the city cited them for in October. The Covingtons did make 14 barrels of red wine and two barrels of white wine from the grapes. It is still in the garage behind their house.

It’s legal to run a winery in a residential neighborhood with a permit, but the home business must remain undetectable.

The city cited them for violating five conditions of their permit, including storing equipment outside their home. Each violation could potentially be a $500 fine.

The Covingtons said they might consider moving their winery someplace else.

At least one neighboring city is all too happy to oblige.

Debbie Emge, the economic development director of Snohomish, said she has invited the Covingtons to move the winery. Emge said boutique wineries and breweries are legal in downtown and Snohomish wants them.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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