Napa County challenges Altamura Winery

Validity of permits disputed in court
2013-04-12T18:55:00Z Napa County challenges Altamura WineryKERANA TODOROV Napa Valley Register
April 12, 2013 6:55 pm  • 

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.

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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(7) Comments

  1. Oh hello
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    Oh hello - April 13, 2013 7:27 am
    If the caves passed inspection in 1997, then why is the county going after their permits 16 years later?
  2. fmmt47
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    fmmt47 - April 13, 2013 8:06 am
    A great example of government helping small business thrive.
  3. glenroy
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    glenroy - April 13, 2013 10:17 am
    This is liberalism 101…nitpick their failure to be explicit on use, or in this case intentionally avoiding being explicit, then try and take it out on the property owners arse….all ties back to Government Citizen v American Citizen. We know well having property exempt from Measure A the county is now saying that’s not the deal though the Supervisors voted to say it was the deal. Now they want tens of thousands of dollars in fines and back taxes on an exempt temporary AG building without road or utilities. If you dare to question they throw every agency at their disposal at you... grossly over valuing improvements, using sat/aerial photos to locate building or improvements they cannot legally access on earth without permission and or a search warrant to making up false claims of improvement. Revenue racket.

    In the end it’s not about safety or violations, most of them make up violations that either don’t exist or don't's about extorting so they can keep extorting more.

  4. MyWrites
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    MyWrites - April 13, 2013 6:58 pm
    Yet again more issues from a family that seems to be in constant battle with the city/county over projects and neglected properties. Why does this not surprise me...

    "all ties back to Government Citizen v American Citizen" - GR you wouldn't be talking about those who try to follow the rules and generally don't have these kinds of problems as opposed to those "Americans" who value their private wealth over community responsibility and paying taxes?

  5. glenroy
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    glenroy - April 16, 2013 6:09 am
    My you’re obviously a government citizen….this state’s economy is hopelessly being destroyed as the talent flees sick and tired of dealing with incompetence and corruption….
    All Blue States have this problem…but no Red State has it…get it?
    I can give you a dozen recent examples of blatant government extortion, beginning with the assessor’s office grossly over valuing improvements and ending with the City building dept. and we prevailed with the latter and we will on the former because in the end it is about the truth.
  6. selim_sivad
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    selim_sivad - April 16, 2013 3:09 pm
    Ah, the old "talent is fleeing" complaint, when really talent is staying...census studies have found that the people who are leaving are those in the lower economic strata, and people in higher tax brackets are actually migrating IN (

    I can't figure out why you choose to stay in such a liberal-rich environment? What's keeping you from fleeing to the Rick Perry Promised Land?
  7. napa-transit
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    napa-transit - April 19, 2013 11:43 am
    ...Not to mention that red states, particularly those in the southeast, have the highest rates of government assistance, obesity, joblessness, and, of course, evangelicals.
    Given that Napa's industries are very "location-specific", I don't see the Modavis or Krugs fleeing to Alabama anytime soon.
    There are a handful of winery owners who constantly flout laws and regulations. Most people know who they are. They don't do unlawful things out of financial need. They do it out of greed and ego. Shouldn't they be held to the same standards as everyone else? If Napa standards fall, it will hurt everyone.
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