Fenwick Wine Cellar's winery gets approval from county

Sussex County Council members this week unanimously voted to approve a conditional use that will permit operation of a winery/store for Wine Worx, operators of Fenwick Wine Cellars on Route 54 near Fenwick Island.

Owner Adrian Lobelia had requested the conditional use in order to operate his wine-making operation from the back of the retail location for the winery, which sits across Route 54 from the acre of wine grapes he planted there last year.

Nicholas Mobilia, the father of Adrian Mobilia (who was unable to attend the March 29 hearing), noted that he owns a 200-acre vineyard in Erie, Pa., and had sent his son to college to learn the business. Having met an Ocean City, Md., woman and now living in the area with her and their 2-year-old daughter, Adrian Mobilia had decided to develop his business in this area instead, he said.

Attorney Tim Willard, representing Wine Worx, noted that Delaware’s new farm-winery law allows businesses to be licensed to grow and manufacture wine, and to sell wine made from grapes grown elsewhere, in diminishing amounts, until a winery operation is established on-site.

Mobilia was instrumental in recent changes to that law. The county does not include the manufacture and bottling of wine as a permitted use in the B-1 zoning district in which the proposed shop is located, across from the agriculturally zoned vineyard property, and in order to get a farm-winery license from the State of Delaware, Lobelia had to provide proof that the county approved of the use.

State legislators subsequently approved a change to the farm-winery law that would allow Mobilia to have a temporary license to start selling wine designated specifically for his shop until he could get that county approval. Having received that temporary license, Mobilia then applied to the county for a conditional use for the winery operation.

“If he had an operation for retail and bottling across the street, he wouldn’t need approval,” Willard emphasized, noting that the retail and bottling operations would be considered a permitted accessory use to the agricultural use on the vineyard property, but not on the B-1 zoned parcel.

Nicholas Mobilia said the wine-making operation will be located in the rear of the retail location, where sampling will also take place. The operation will be enclosed and involve 24 tanks making a variety of wines using different types of grapes and different levels of sugar. The resulting wine will then be bottled and stored at the back of the shop until moved to the front for sale.

The soil in the vineyard, Willard noted, is considered “pretty good for this type of wine.”

Nicholas Mobilia described the process in which the 400-gallon, man-high tanks will be used to ferment the wine with sugar and yeast. It will then be filtered for clarification, and the resulting solids collected and either thrown away or used to create compost for or to directly dress the vineyard. That means no objectionable additions to the county’s sewer system as a result of the winery operation.

“It’s not a lot of equipment. It’s very small, very expensive stuff,” said NicholasMobilia.

The operation will use about a gallon of water in the production of each gallon of wine, much of which will be used to clean the equipment.

The retail store sold about 3,500 gallons of wine last year.

The sole objection to the conditional use came from a neighbor who said a required fence to screen the retail location from adjacent residences had never been completed.

County staff confirmed that Wine Worx, as a tenant, was not directly responsible for the fence but that the property owner had been notified about the issue and asked to comply.

Citing that the use fit in well in the B-1 district and restricting it to the existing 2,800 square feet of structure – any expansion requiring review and approval of county council and the county planning commission – council members voted unanimously to approve the conditional use.

The store and winery will be able to operate seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Also on March 29, council members voted unanimously to approve county staff moving forward with a proposed maintenance building that would be used to cover county-owned equipment.

The building, measuring 60 feet by 120 feet, would be erected at the county airport facility and provide cover for such equipment as the Emergency Operations Center command vehicle, Bookmobile, dump truck and tractors, as well as offering storage space for runway lights and other electrical equipment used at the airport.

County staff had a ballpark estimate of $103,000 for the building itself, while options to cover either a 36-by-60-foot area or the entire facility with a concrete floor ranged from $11,500 to $34,000 in additional estimated cost, putting the finished structure at between $113,000 and $135,000 in total cost.

County staff recommended the council consider the full floor, as it would allow them to perform minor maintenance on equipment and provide a better fit for storage, as well as less susceptibility to seepage at the doors. The project could be funded either this fiscal year or next.

Council members did not approve moving forward with construction but unanimously approved moving to get more concrete costs before they consider approving the project.

Also on March 29:

• The council approved an escrow agreement with the new developers of Waters Run near Fenwick Island, under which gravity sewer will be designed and constructed for the Magnolia Shores community on Old Mill Bridge Road. The developers have pledged $33,500 in escrow so that the project can be completed in tandem with the first phases of Waters Run, making Waters Run contiguous with the existing county sewer district in that area.

• The council approved a grant for the Ocean View Boy Scout Troop 281, for the purchase of a new trailer for camping and community service outings.