Altamura Winery
Kelly Doren/Register

A Napa County Superior Court judge has ordered a winery in Wooden Valley to temporarily stop offering tours and wine tastings while Napa County officials seek a wider ban on winery operations, according to court records.

County officials want Judge J. Michael Byrne, who signed the temporary order on March 21, to issue a permanent order banning tastings and winery operations at Altamura Winery, 1301 Wooden Valley Road, until the winery has all necessary county permits.

Representatives for both Napa County and winery owners Frank and Karen Altamura were in court Wednesday for a two-hour hearing over the possible ban. The arguments, which stopped at 5 p.m. when the courts close, are scheduled to resume Monday.

Napa County officials allege that the winery, which has produced wines since 1985, and the 3,500-square-foot cave, built in 1996, lacks essential permits.

“The evidence is clear. Defendants are occupying and operating the winery without a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy or a final Certificate of Occupancy. Defendants are occupying the cave for public visitation and wine tasting as well as winery storage without a valid building permit, use permit, or Certificate of Occupancy,” wrote Deputy County Counsel Carrie Gallagher in a brief filed April 1.  

In court records, lawyers for Frank and Karen Altamura argued their clients do have the proper permits for their winery. The Altamuras began using the cave for barrel storage, private tours and wine tastings in early 1997 after obtaining the requisite county inspection, lawyers Teresa Cunningham and Robyn Christo said in court records.

In a court declaration, Frank Altamura said the cave was being used as a winery in compliance with all of the county’s regulations.

In court Wednesday, Napa County Deputy Planning Director John McDowell said the use permit issued for the winery does not cover the cave.

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Darrell Mayes, Napa County’s chief building official, testified that fermentation tanks inside the cave need to be anchored to be seismically safe and exit signs need to be illuminated. The county, he said, has no record of a final inspection for electrical and plumbing work done inside the cave, allegations lawyer Cunningham objected to.

In a court declaration, Frank Altamura said the cave was being used as a winery in compliance with all of the county’s regulations. The tanks were designed to be movable.

As of September 2012, he and his wife have spent about $400,000 on modifications at the winery to comply with the county’s requests, he said. The wine aging in the cave is valued at $15 million, he said.

In the meantime, the ban on tours and tastings is costly. “We’re losing money, that’s for sure,” Frank Altamura said Thursday.


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