Winery in Placer County Says its Being Targeted Unfairly

PLACER COUNTY -- Unrest has been uncorked in the fields of Placer County.

Instead of being able to serve customers the way he and wine lovers want, the owner of Rock Hill Winery says the county's become a regulatory force more arbitrary than the weather.

He claims he was originally told to permit his space as an agricultural building and then advised to convert to commercial use later.

"I can't convert it because the cost to put in a sprinkler system ... is about $150,000," said Don DuPont, owner of Rock Hill Winery.

The bones of the system are in place, it's connecting to city water rather than tapping the vineyard's own water, or Lake Spalding, that  DuPont says is cost prohibitive. And for him, it's also about principle.

"It's the same thing as if we were doing a Walmart or a Target," he said.

He doesn't believe a small business -- a 6,000 square foot space that can house 200 people -- should be held to the same standard.

And when it comes to the stalled minor use permit that would officially let him hold the multiple weddings and concerts that he already is, DuPont says the county's principles on that issue have soured on the vine.

"The county can't change the regulations when you've paid the fees and you're in the middle of the permit process," he said.

But that's just the scenario DuPont claims poured out of county government shortly after he'd paid $7,000 in permit fees. On top of money gone, he was told he'd have to wait a year and start the process all over as permit conditions were revised.

"I had a meeting with the planners, and they said 'well if the ordinance doesn't come out the way you like, we'll just give you your money back.' Well the problem is, I spent millions of dollars on the project, so it's hard to say we're gonna change the rules," DuPont said.

Inspectors with the Placer County Code Compliance and the Community Development Resource Agency would not comment on camera about this situation so as not to prejudice a hearing in the matter set for Wednesday.

Rock Hill owners may feel like they're between a rock and a hard place, but county spokesmen say the business is violating building code by using their space for an unapproved purpose -- a situation the county's been trying to resolve for years.

It's unclear just what DuPont will reap from continuing to do business his way and not the county's.