B Cellars winery near Oakville successfully petitioned the county to increase its annual tasting room visitor cap by 80 percent and its annual marketing event attendance cap by 160 percent.
The Napa County Planning Commission, which approved the request earlier this month, briefly grappled with the question of when hospitality uses begin to overshadow agriculture.
Co-owner Duffy Keys said the Oakville appellation has 26 wineries, some old, some new, some with lots of visitors, some with no visitors. He described how B Cellars found its niche there over the past four years.
“I think a distinguishing characteristic for us is that we are providing visitors with a curated wine-and-food experience,” Keys told the Planning Commission. “These are high-touch, personalized visits.”
Planning Commissioner Terry Scott favored B Cellars’ requests. The winery has been moving to realize its original vision and having smaller, more numerous marketing events is the last piece, he said.
“B Cellars, in my mind, represents an innovative and first-class winery experience for its guests …. It has an excellent confluence of food and wine and hospitality experiences in a smaller and more intimate venue,” Scott said.
Commissioner Joelle Gallagher, while praising B Cellars, said the visitation numbers requested weren’t appropriate for the winery’s size and production. She pointed to Napa County laws that say wineries must be mainly about wine-making.
“I really think the visitation and marketing isn’t clearly incidental and subordinate to the production of wine,” Gallagher said.
The commission voted 3-1 to approve the higher visitation levels and marketing event attendance. Commissioners Scott, Michael Basayne and Jeri Hansen voted “yes” and Gallagher voted “no.” Commissioner Anne Cottrell was absent.
The 45,000-gallon-a-year winery is located on 11.5 acres at 701 Oakville Cross Road. It secured approval to increase by-appointment-only tasting room visitation from a maximum of 250 people weekly to 450. Annual visitation will increase from 13,000 to 23,400.
In addition, B Cellars can increase its marketing events from 16 annually with a total of 860 guests to 71 annually with a total of 2,235 guests.
Various B Cellars neighbors, county residents who are B Cellars customers, operators of other wineries, tour operators and others wrote letters to the county supporting B Cellars’ requests.
Goosecross Cellars near Yountville is a 30,000-gallon-a-year winery on a similar-sized parcel to B Cellars and has a tasting room visitors cap of 350 people a week. CEO Christi Coors Ficeli told commissioners she supports the B Cellars request based on her own permit.
“I really believe in building this community and building the visitors in Napa Valley based on the wonderful experiences we can provide,” she said. “If (B Cellars) can provide that to more folks coming into Napa Valley, I think it would be a wonderful thing.”
But neighbor Paul Woolls – who appeared before the commission himself in 2013 for a Woolls Ranch winery proposal—spoke out against the visitation increase requests, though he said doing so pained him. He said B Cellars at times has seemed like a restaurant masquerading as a winery.
A 45,000-gallon-a-year winery on a postage-stamp-sized property along quiet, pastoral Oakville Cross Road is different than the bigger Oakville wineries along Highway 29, he said.
Keys and Jim Borsack founded B Cellars in 2003. They operated out of the Silver Rose Inn resort in Calistoga, then in 2013 asked the Napa County Planning Commission for permission to move to the Oakville Cross Road property in the heart of Napa Valley.
The previous owner of the Oakville property had county permission to build a 10,000-gallon-a-year winery there. Keys and Borsack successfully asked the Planning Commission in 2013 for permission to build a 45,000-gallon-a-year winery.
They also asked to have a tasting room visitation cap of 420 people a week. The commission in 2013 decided this was too high and set the cap at 250 people per week.
On Wednesday, B Cellars secured that 450 weekly visitation cap that is closer to its original vision.
Hansen said the maximum visitation numbers approved by the commission are just that – maximums. They are limits, not what will necessarily happen on a daily basis.
“I applaud the thoughtful experience you are providing your visitors that is much in line with what we do here in Napa Valley, and that is that high-touch, high-contact, quality experience,” she told B Cellars representatives.