Bill that would allow dogs in vineyards passes Virginia House

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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — A bill that has just passed the Virginia House of Delegate would permit dogs in the tasting rooms of Virginia vineyards.

In September, the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (VDACS) sent a letter to Bluestone Winery notifying them of the state regulation. The agency cited its policy on animals in food and beverage establishments. Shortly afterward, the vineyard notified customers via email of a new policy barring any dog that's not a service animal from their tasting room.

According to a spokeswoman for VDACS, dogs were never allowed inside Virginia tasting rooms (except service animals) and were only allowed outside at vineyards as of July 2016, under certain guidelines like being on a leash and not being able to sit on the tables and chairs.

The guidelines were meant to keep dogs out of areas where wine is manufactured or sold.

The crackdown on the policy struck a blow to many vineyards throughout the commonwealth, who often feature dogs in advertising and even in the names of their wines.

House Bill 286 would allow companion animals inside and on the property of a licensed winery or farm winery. Most animals fall under that category, except for agricultural animals, game species or research animals.The animal has to be unlikely to result in contamination of food, food contact surfaces, or food packaging materials. Right now, only guide or guard dogs are allowed.

Staff at Bluestone Vineyard say they have noticed a decline since the state crackdown in visitors who usually brought their dogs.

"People like bringing their dogs and if they can't bring their dog, they are not going to feel as welcome but, to us, it's very important that people can come in and be comfortable, do what they'd like to do and enjoy a glass of wine, and for some people, that means bringing their dog," said Curt Hartman with Bluestone Vineyard.

Dogs have been a significant part of Bluestone's business with a wine named after the vineyard's first dog, Beau. Hartman also says having dogs at the winery allows them to be more family friendly to the community.

"A vineyard without a dog is just a grape farm," Bluestone said when they notified customers last fall.

The bill now heads to the Virginia Senate.