Tax status of Viaggio winery/events center stirs controversy

3:30 PM, Jul 13, 2010   |    comments
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STOCKTON, CA - It could be the most beautiful wine facility and events center in San Joaquin County, but it still has problems.

"It's a winery with a walnut orchard.  That doesn't make sense.  They've since planted an acre of grapes.  I think they had the best of intentions.  But bottom line, they weren't aware of the confines of the Williamson Act contract," said San Joaquin Farm Bureau Executive Director Bruce Blodgett.

He was talking about the Viaggio winery and events center, which is located on 23 acres of land along the Mokelumne River north of Lodi. 

The Williamson Act offers big breaks in property taxes to businesses that are agriculture-based.  Blodgett said politicians are starting to question the usefulness of the Williamson Act, and if one facility is viewed as abusing those tax breaks, other farmers could be harmed as well.  The Farm Bureau is opposed to expansion plans at Viaggio.

"If they're going to jeopardize a program that's important for thousands, we'll get involved, and that's what we chose to do," said Blodgett.

Kent Raverty bought the property at Viaggio eight years ago, and immediately realized it would be a perfect spot for events and weddings. Although he remodeled extensively, he insisted the property is still agriculture-based.

"I've planted hundreds of walnut trees out here to fill in what was dying off.   We planted vineyards.  We've taken nothing out of agriculture.  We've added to it," said Raverty.

Raverty said what ia offered at Viaggio is offered throughout San Joaquin County at other wineries.

"We have not tore out anything.  We've added to everything.  Eighty other wineries in the area do what we do," said Raverty.

The California Department of Conservation is investigating the Williamson Act status of Viaggio.  While that investigation continues, Raverty is trying to sell his operation for $6.5 million.

"There comes a point, and you know what?  Enough is enough," said Raverty.



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