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House Family Vineyards

Frequently Asked Questions

Please see below for a list of our FAQs.  If you have an additional question that is not listed here, please email us at info@housefamilyvineyards.com so we can answer your question.

  1. Historical Land Usage – What has been the historical use of the land in this area?
  2. Back-yard Wineries - Can anyone with a vineyard become a winery?
  3. Zoning – What are the allowed land uses in land zoned Hillside Residential?
  4. Permits and Licensing – What permits and licenses does House Family Vineyards hold?
  5. Taxes – Has House Family Vineyards been paying taxes during past years?
  6. Master Plan – What is the Master Plan?
  7. Conditional Use Permit (CUP) – Why has it taken so long to obtain a CUP?
  8. Scale of operations – Is House Family expanding its existing operations?
  9. Fire Danger – Does the House Family Master Plan increase the danger from fire?
  10. Deck Building Permit – Was the existing Tasting Room constructed with a permit?
  11. Legal Operation – Is House Family operating an illegal operation?
  12. Commercial Operation – Is House Family operating a commercial business on their property?
  13. CUP – How could you not understand the need for a CUP Conditional Use Permit?
  14. Traffic – Will this cause more traffic problems on Old Oak Way and Pierce Road?
  15. Parking – Does House Family allow parking on Old Oak Way?
  16. Alcohol consumption - Does House Family allow guests to become intoxicated?
  17. Noise – Will House Family events create excessive noise?
  18. Light – Will the House Family CUP allow increased light pollution?

Historical Land Usage – What has been the historical use of the land in this area?

Wineries have existed in the surrounding area for over 200 years (reference ‘Like Modern Edens, Wine-growing in Santa Clara County and, Santa Cruz Mountains 1798-1981’ Charles L. Sullivan).  Between 1850 and 1900 much of the surrounding area was planted with vineyards. Between 1900 and 1950 much of these vineyards were replaced by orchards. Today most of those orchards have been replaced by housing. The aerial photos below are of the House Family property and the surrounding areas taken in 1948 and 2020.

These aerial photos show that Cooper Garrod and House Family Vineyards are the only commercial agriculture and winery operations remaining in this area today. Meanwhile, most of Saratoga, has been converted from agriculture to housing. It is House Family Vineyards intent to preserve Saratoga’s agricultural heritage.

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Back-yard Wineries - Can anyone with a vineyard become a winery?

Theoretically, in any area zoned Hillside Residential, yes. Practically, no. To become a fully licensed winery requires a number of permits (see below) and a lot of land (winemaking, parking, a tasting room, handicap restrooms, etc.)

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Zoning – What are the allowed land uses in land zoned Hillside Residential?

Land zoned Hillside Residential in Saratoga is used for housing, along with various other uses including open space, and agriculture, which are actually preferred uses, according to Saratoga’s land use goals. Vineyards and winemaking are both allowed uses (15-13-030). Winery tastings and events are allowed as a “conditional” use (15-13.040) (h) upon granting of a use permit by the City of Saratoga.

Cooper Garrod (119 acres) is adjacent to House Family (73 acres), and both are located on Hillside Residential (HR) zoned land. Cooper Garrod Winery operates under a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) approved in 2012. House Family Vineyards’ CUP application follows the same land use principles to that of its neighbor.

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Permits and Licensing – What permits and licenses does House Family Vineyards hold?

House Family Vineyards holds the following:

US Treasury Licensing

  • November 24, 2003 - Dept of Treasury Employer EIN
  • February 24, 2004 - Department of Treasury Notice of S-Corp
  • April 21, 2011 - TTB Wine Bond Approved
  • April 21, 2011 - TTB Wine/Producer/Blender Permit Approved

California Licensing

  • September 29, 2003 - Incorporated with State of California
  • May, 1, 2010 - California State Board of Equalization Sellers Permit
  • August 6, 2010 - ABC Type #17 Winery License
  • August 6, 2010 - ABC Type #20 Winery License
  • August 26, 2011 - ABC Type #02 Winery License approved
  • June 2012 - present - ABC Type #02 Winery License in force

Santa Clara County Licensing

  • October 26, 2004 - Santa Clara County Fictitious Business Name
    • Old Oak Vineyard, House
  • December 11, 2009 - Santa Clara County Fictitious Business Name
    • Old Oak Vineyard, House, House Family Winery
  • July 17, 2012 - Santa Clara County Fictitious Business Name
    • Old Oak Vineyard, House, House Family Winery, House Family Vineyards

City of Saratoga Licensing

  • October 2009 to present - City of Saratoga Business License
  • February 28, 2012 to present - Home Occupancy License
  • Since July 2011 - Email with City; Use Permit Questionnaire.
  • February 28, 2012 - email from the City of Saratoga allowing “limited wine tastings”
  • 2016 to 2020 - Jointly worked with City and County on CUP application

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Taxes – Has House Family Vineyards been paying taxes during past years?

Yes. House Family has paid sales taxes, business taxes, property taxes, income taxes and a host of permit and application fees to the city, county, state and US government over the past 20 years. House Family is current on all tax payments.

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Master Plan – What is the Master Plan?

The Master Plan was requested by City Planning in 2016 to identify “everything you intend to do in the future”. That request resulted in an application to the Planning Commission for their approval of

  1. A future subterranean wine cellar to include improvements to an existing farm road  to provide emergency fire access and the installation of a new fire hydrant adjacent to the wine cave
  2. Approval of a permit for an existing deck and
  3. Approval of a conditional use permit for existing operations. Following Planning Commission approval, Building Department approval is required.

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Conditional Use Permit (CUP) – Why has it taken so long to obtain a CUP?

We have found the process to be complicated. It involves a number of government agencies. Since it was founded, House Family has tried to work cooperatively with all government agencies. (See Permits and Licensing section above).

In 2016 when the deck permit, proposed wine cellar and Conditional Use Permit (CUP) discussions began, House Family was asked to submit a “Master Plan” that included all the items under review at the time as well as any future imagined use, instead of submitting multiple individual requests over time. (See Master Plan and Conditional Use Permit Overview above.) House Family was told that this is what the city did with Cooper Garrod Winery in their CUP process.

In hindsight the Master Plan request significantly slowed the approval process for each item for approval since each item in that plan, including the building permits and the CUP, needed to be finalized and had to conform to all requirements. The Master Plan was significantly delayed, for example, by the process of developing an affordable, environmentally sensitive and approvable wine cellar. We wish we had done it in two steps, and not waited to finalize the wine cellar plans.

It might be noted that the Cooper Garrod Winery CUP review and approval cycle also required many years for completion and approval.

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Scale of operations – Is House Family expanding its existing operations?

No. We are not interested in increasing the level of activity over what we have been doing over the past several years, and the wine cave will only move our winemaking operations under ground where it will be more energy efficient and less visible. The cave will not be open to the public.

We live here. Our families are most impacted by the winery operations. House Family’s desire is to continue our operations at the same level they’ve been at over the past few years, not to expand them.

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Fire Danger – Does the House Family Master Plan increase the danger from fire?

We hear from fire experts that approval of the House Family CUP request would actually reduce fire danger for the Old Oak and Pierce Road neighborhoods.

The conditions of the CUP include the improvement of an existing farm road such that it will support the heaviest county and state fire equipment and the installation of a new fire hydrant to reduce neighborhood fire danger.

A 0.4-mile-wide fire corridor lies between Parker Ranch and Old Oak Way and is a direct fire path from Fremont Alder open space to Pierce Road and the surrounding community. The proposed emergency fire access road and the new fire hydrant provides fire departments improved access and capability in a new position where they can better fight a firestorm coming through this corridor.

As recently seen in Napa and Sanoma Valleys and the City of Paradise, firestorms are the biggest risk for hillside communities, especially in areas that lie along the Wildlife Urban Interface (WUI). That is where we live. Recently many families in the area have had their homeowner’s insurance cancelled because of the increasing danger of fire, including many of us at the top of Old Oak Way. It is difficult and expensive to get coverage elsewhere.

Vineyards are firebreaks. As seen in Napa and Sonoma, fires stop within a few rows of a vineyard while trees and houses burn. Approval of the House Family request will both preserve the natural fire breaks created by our vineyards and provide for better fire protection for us and our neighbors through increased firefighting capability.

House Family is working with our Arrowhead neighbors (who live in the hills at the west end of Prospect along the same Fremont Alder Wildfire Urban Interface) on Project Firebird WUI Fire Defense Alliance.  We are creating a Firewise Neighborhood Organization for our families and will invite neighbors to join. https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Wildfire/Firewise-USA/Become-a-Firewise-USA-site

We would be happy to share with you how we at House Family are working to make everyone safer from fire danger.

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Deck Building Permit – Was the existing Tasting Room constructed with a permit?

No. The Tasting Room should be more accurately described as a “covered deck”. The structure is open air - 75% of the covered area is open, with no walls. The walls that are there are shear walls, constructed as specified by a licensed structural engineer to ensure the structural integrity of the building.  The deck was built without a permit. We view it as a mistake not to have obtained a permit for its construction.

Shortly after the deck was completed we confronted our mistake and we informed the city. We began working to bring the deck into permit compliance. As is the city’s policy, they are working with us to get it permitted as part of the Master Plan and Conditional Use Permit, as noted above. (See Master Plan and Conditional Use Permit section above.)

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Legal Operation – Is House Family operating an illegal operation?

It has never been our intention to do anything illegal, we have tried our best to follow the spirit and letter of all laws and regulations. Our involvement and requests of the city to remain legal have been something we consider transparent and available as public record. There are many laws and regulations and they are complex. We got most, but not all, of them right.  We have made a couple mistakes, but not with ill intentions. We immediately began to rectify them as soon as we became aware that we were not in compliance. In accordance with the City’s standard policy, we continue to work with the City to bring all of House Family’s operations and structures into compliance.

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Commercial Operation – Is House Family operating a commercial business on their property?

Yes. Growing agricultural products and processing those products for commercial sale is a commercial business. In the case of wineries, the agricultural product is grapes and the processing is wine making. This is a legal and permitted business in the Hillside Residential (HR) zoned land. Our neighbors, the Cooper Garrod Winery has been doing this for decades. Growing grapes and making wine is a legal commercial business on the House Family property.

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CUP – How could you not understand the need for a CUP Conditional Use Permit?

It was a mistake based on faulty assumptions.

We had been informed by City Planning that our active Home Occupation License entitled us to have “limited wine tastings” in February, 2012. Also, our California Alcohol and Beverage Commission (ABC) Type 02 license, granted June 2012, says it “Authorizes the sale of all wines and brandies regardless of source to consumers for consumption on the premises….” We made the incorrect assumption that we thus had the rights we needed. Once we learned that we also needed approval, in the form of a conditional use permit, we began the process to gain that approval. Please see our list of permits and licenses above.

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Traffic – Will this cause more traffic problems on Old Oak Way and Pierce Road?

No, no increase in traffic. We are not asking to increase our HFV activities over recent years, so traffic should not increase in the future do to House Family activities over what it was in 2018 and 2019.

In our 10 years of operation there has never been a reported accident on Old Oak Way involving a House Family Vineyards’ customer and the city has never received a traffic complaint in the past 10 years.

In order to get the facts, an outside independent study of traffic on Old Oak Way and on Pierce Road is being commissioned.

However, during the CUP review process, neighbors have made several suggestions on how to improve safety on Old Oak Way. We believe that safety on Old Oak Way can be significantly improved. We are committed to working with our neighbors and the City to improve safety in our neighborhood. We live here. We, our children and our grandchildren drive on Old Oak Way daily. We are extremely concerned about safety on Old Oak Way.

Seeing the benefit of input from and communication with our neighbors on traffic and other issues, we are planning to create an Old Oak Club for our neighbors. We will work with our neighbors to define the details of the Old Oak Club based on their input, starting with a periodic neighborhood gathering.

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Parking – Does House Family allow parking on Old Oak Way?

No. All customer, resident and employee parking is on House Family property. Executive minibuses are required for larger events. Parking attendants manage parking as needed.

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Alcohol consumption - Does House Family allow guests to become intoxicated?

House Family makes every effort not to allow guests to become intoxicated. All employees are trained in ABC practices to recognize and address issues of over consumption. If intoxicated guests arrive, they are denied service. We are a winery, not a bar.

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Noise – Will House Family events create excessive noise?

No. House Family observes and enforces all Saratoga neighborhood noise regulations and limitations. We occasionally have live music, but any amplification is carefully controlled as not to violate the Saratoga sound ordinance. We are not a concert venue or a bar. Our customers come here for peace and quiet. We do not allow loud parties.

In the past 10 years we have had one noise complaint which we immediately addressed. We regularly monitor noise both on our property and in the neighborhood.

As part of the Environmental study a sound test was conducted with decibel reading devices Sound levels at the property edges, with music playing at event levels, were well below allowable levels according to the city noise ordinances.

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Light – Will the House Family CUP allow increased light pollution?

No. House Family is committed to reduce, not increase light pollution. We strive to provide minimal landscape and facility lighting that is respectful of our neighbors. We address any lighting problems as soon as possible, once we learn about them.

House Family uses low voltage LED lighting throughout. Our paths are lit with LED down lights. Every home produces some light pollution, but we are committed to keep ours to the absolute minimum. If there is a problem, please contact us and we will work together with our neighbors to address any lighting issues.

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