The results of a random audit of 20 Napa County wineries found that almost all were complying with their use permits’ production limits, but seven were exceeding their visitation and marketing limits.
Napa County planning staff attributed the excess visitation and marketing events as a byproduct of the economic success of smaller wineries. The seven violators’ annual production ranges from 5,000 to 60,000 gallons.
The county Planning Department conducts the anonymous audit every year, sampling about 5 percent of the county’s wineries. Names of wineries are drawn out of a hat to determine each year’s audit.
Last year’s audit marked the first time the county examined wineries’ grape sourcing, and it found all 20 in compliance with their use permits. Audit results were discussed at the Napa County Planning Commission’s meeting last week.
Planning Director Hillary Gitelman noted that the sourcing documents available to staff didn’t show the wineries’ bulk wine bottling operations, only the wine crushed and fermented on site.
“We’re not 100 percent confident that we have fully measured compliance,” Gitelman told the commission. “This has been a really valuable exercise. Every year we learn something.”
Commissioner Bob Fiddaman said he was glad to see that the majority of wineries were in compliance, but was troubled that some wineries exceed their limits on visitation and marketing.
One winery had a limit of seven people per week for visitation, but had a high of 128 people. It also had a marketing event with 50 people, but wasn’t allowed to have marketing events in its use permit.
Another had a cap of 70 people per week, but had a high of 384 people visiting one week, according to the audit results. A winery with an identical cap of 70 per week saw a high of 212 people, according to the audit.
Other violations were smaller, such as exceeding a cap of 40 people per week by 15 people, or going over a limit of 10 people per week by 4 people.
“I was pleased to see the level of compliance,” Fiddaman said. “We’ve got four of these that are significantly out of compliance. That did bother me a little bit.”
The seven wineries will have an opportunity to reduce their visitation numbers or come back to the county for a modification of their use permit, according to a county staff report.
The production violations were smaller — only three wineries exceeded their limits. One exceeded a 5,000 gallon limit by 3,400 gallons, and will seek a use-permit modification.
Another went over a 30,000 gallon cap by 2,102 gallons and is also seeking to modify its use permit.
A third went 10,916 gallons over, but it hasn’t supplied staff with the production totals for 2010 and 2011, which can be averaged to bring the winery under its use permit’s cap.
The 20 wineries produced a total of 726,632 gallons of wine, which was below the 1.67 million permitted. A large portion of that discrepancy could be attributed to one winery, which has approval to produce 900,000 gallons annually but only made 214,000 in 2012, according to the audit results.
Staff broached the idea of adding other use permits the county approves — such as those for buildings in the airport area or Oakville Grocery — into the pool for selection for next year’s audit.
The commissioners balked at the idea and said they preferred that the focus remain on testing wineries’ compliance.
Commissioner Matt Pope said he wanted to ensure the commission is continuing to monitor winery production as much as possible.
“I think zeroing in on winery production is very, very important for this commission,” Pope said.
Commissioner Heather Phillips agreed. “This is really one of our key compliance tools,” Phillips said.