A winery owned by the son of a Costco co-founder has received approval to expand production by more than 45,000 gallons, despite concerns of grape sourcing for the new wine, and water usage at the winery and adjacent vineyard.
Neither concern is new to the Napa County Planning Commission, however, and the commissioners said they would rather deal with the issues on a broader policy level than hold up the application.
They voted Wednesday to unanimously approve the request from Sinegal Estate, which is owned by David Sinegal, son of former Costco CEO James Sinegal. The winery had 13,200 gallons of production approved, but can now expand to 60,000 gallons.
Sinegal purchased the 30-acre property, which includes the winery, vineyard and a residence, last year for approximately $20 million. It’s located on Inglewood Avenue just south of St. Helena.
The winery plans to slowly roll out its production expansion over the next decade, and supplied a report on potential grapegrowers that could supply fruit, ensuring the wine complies with the county’s 75 percent rule, winemaker Tony Biagi said.
Commissioner Heather Phillips said that for planning purposes, the commission has to view the expansion as potentially happening all at once, and has to look at Napa Valley grapes as a finite resource.
“I see 60,000 and I think it needs to be ready to go for 60,000 tomorrow,” Phillips said. “I am just assuming it is the proposed numbers we are dealing with.”
Biagi said he didn’t view grape sourcing as a significant issue.
“I don’t necessarily see that as a concern,” Biagi said. “There’s fruit still available. We just have to go out and find it.”
Tom Adams, an attorney working for the winery, said market forces would dictate the availability of grapes, either through wineries choosing to produce less wine some years, or paying higher prices in others.
“It comes down to how you look at economics,” Adams said. “I think most people would agree that the market is the appropriate arbiter of where the fruit should go. We’ve done everything we can do to meet the standards that have been established by the county.”
Sinegal added that his intent is to produce wine using entirely Napa grapes, not just the 75 percent minimum required by the county’s Winery Definition Ordinance.
“I’m very committed to doing all of these things in the right way,” Sinegal told the commissioners.
As she has in past Planning Commission meetings, Evangeline James of the Mount Veeder Stewardship Council urged the commissioners to consider winery and vineyard projects in light of the drought Napa County and California are experiencing.
She said new standards are needed to evaluate these projects, rather than the assumption that they can access up to an acre-foot of groundwater per acre on the floor of the Napa Valley.
“We think that both the application and the review should have taken into account the drought,” James said.
The property has access to well water, pond water from two seasonal creeks and domestic water from the city of St. Helena, according to a water-availability analysis. It uses 14.6 acre-feet of water currently, and would use 16.3 acre-feet after the expansion, according to the analysis.
Commissioner Terry Scott said policies dealing with water and grape availability should be the focus of separate meetings among the commissioners and planning staff, rather than changing standards based on an individual application.
“The old rules are coming under question,” Scott said. “There’s more need for concerns. We need to look at some of those policies. Mr. Sinegal has made a solid and well-planned winery modification proposal. This application is reasonable.”