The Napa County Planning Commission helped a carousel of Napa Valley property transactions and developments continue spinning Wednesday, as it approved plans for a new 45,000-gallon winery on Oakville Cross Road for Calistoga-based B Cellars.
B Cellars is leaving its current location in the Silver Rose Inn resort, whose owners’ redevelopment plans are forcing the winery out. Silver Rose initially won approval of those plans from the Calistoga City Council last year, and later from voters when they approved Measure B in the November election.
B Cellars will take over the Oakville Cross Road property, which was formerly owned by Lissa Miller. Miller raised horses with her late husband, Clark, for more than 20 years at the property, which sits in the 700 block of Oakville Cross and boasts a 180-degree view of the heart of the Napa Valley.
She’s sold it and will move — along with her horses — to Whitehall Lane near St. Helena. An investor in B Cellars purchased the property through a single asset limited liability corporation, co-founder Duffy Keys said Thursday.
B Cellars’ application expands a winery use-permit for a 10,000-gallon winery the Millers had rights to but never built. Planning commissioners unanimously approved the request. Commissioner Bob Fiddaman praised the project as making good use of a prime location in Napa Valley.
“If you look at the neighbors you realize you’re in one of the sweet spots in the Napa Valley,” Fiddaman said.
B Cellars will be putting in caves for wine storage, a crushpad, a winery and potentially new vineyard plantings. The Millers planted several acres of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Nineteen walnut trees will be removed during construction, but the company plans to re-plant six new trees for every one removed.
The new winery will have visitation capped at 250 people per week, plus special events. Keys said that the move to Oakville will help his company contribute to an area renowned for cabernet sauvignon. He couldn’t put a timeline on when the move will take place; Miller said last week she has to move by October.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for us to be situated in the epicenter of what helps to define Napa Valley cabernet,” Keys said.
He said the company began formulating plans for the move in early 2012, coinciding with Silver Rose’s redevelopment plans. The uncertainty swirling around Silver Rose and the campaigns for Measure B was difficult, Keys said, but after learning the Miller property was for sale the company jumped at the chance to relocate, he said.
“We worked pretty hard to see that come to fruition,” Keys said. “It’s unsettling for a business as well, not having certainty. In today’s business world you need alternatives to the alternatives.”
Keys said the goal is to create a smaller winery that will focus on one-on-one contact with customers, relying in part on their past experiences with B Cellars.
“Our intent is to build a little jewel box of a winery, and a hospitality experience that is very comfortable, using one-on-one service as a hallmark,” Keys said. “The wines, we believe, will stand on their own merits.”
Neighbor Launce Gamble and Oakville Grade resident Gary Margadant spoke at Wednesday’s hearing and expressed concerns for how a new winery on Oakville Cross would impact traffic on the road, and its intersections with Silverado Trail and Highway 29.
Margadant uses the intersection of Oakville Grade and Highway 29 frequently, and said it presents a dangerous left-turn for drivers. Putting more drivers, especially those driving after consuming alcohol, into the nearby intersection of Oakville Cross and Highway 29 could be dangerous, he said.
“That corner is a concern to me,” Margadant said.
Jeffrey Redding, a consultant for the project, told the commissioners that B Cellars’ intent is to draw visitors from the existing network of nearby wineries in the eastern portion of the Oakville American Viticultural Area, which wouldn’t necessarily put more drivers on the roads.
Redding said the company wanted to avoid putting in a left-turn lane on Oakville Cross in front of the property, as that — and a sign advertising a winery — would draw in more casual tourists and create more traffic.
“We want to blend in,” Redding said. “We’re tucked in and we intend to be low-profile. The trips that are coming to our winery are diverted trips. We happen to have an excellent address in the Napa Valley.”
After compliance with the Winery Definition Ordinance attracted public debate among wine industry groups last month, Redding said B Cellars will comply with the ordinance’s 75-percent rule, as it uses 85 percent Napa Valley grapes currently.
Fiddaman proposed to lower the weekly maximum visitation from 420 people per week to 250 people as a means of reducing the winery’s impacts. His fellow commissioners agreed to that.
Daniel Bucko of the San Francisco-based architecture and design firm Hart Howerton said the winery will use designs similar to Spanish Missions, a classic look that he believes will still fit in the Napa Valley far into the future.
“Fads — well, they’re fun,” Bucko said. “But the overall fabric is something this project will contribute to for 150 to 200 years.”