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The Caves at Soda Canyon

The view from a cave portal with a wine tasting patio at The Caves of Soda Canyon winery. The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday signed off on an agreement between the winery and neighbors that allows the winery to hold three outdoor events on a ridge visible from the valley floor. 

Courtesy Napa County

A long-running saga over The Caves at Soda Canyon winery and whether it can have outdoor tasting areas with Napa Valley views appears to have finally reached a conclusion.

An appeal of Planning Commission approvals went before the Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The Board endorsed a settlement reached between the appellant – who is a neighbor – and the winery.

But everything didn’t go quickly and smoothly. Allowing The Caves at Soda Canyon to have outdoor events on a ridge visible from the valley continued to be a sensitive issue.

“Just in case I wasn’t clear, this is a very reluctant ‘aye’ ” Supervisor Diane Dillon said.

The Caves at Soda Canyon is located on a ridge northeast of the city of Napa at 2275 Soda Canyon Road. The original Planning Commission approval in 2006 called for tasting facilities to be inside the caves, a county report said.

Winery owners came to the Planning Commission in 2015 seeking to legalize a ventilation shaft that had morphed into a cave portal with a tasting area patio overlooking Napa Valley. They also sought to legalize outdoor visitation areas the winery had on the ridge.

The Planning Commission turned down the requests and told applicant Ryan Waugh to wall off the portal for at least a year in compliance with the existing use permit.

In April 2017, the Planning Commission took up The Caves at Soda Canyon issue again. It approved the portal outdoor tasting patio and allowed events on the ridge, as well as increased the annual wine production cap from 30,000 gallons to 60,000 gallons.

Neighbor Steven Stull appealed the decision to the Board of Supervisors. But he and Waugh, with the help of Supervisor Belia Ramos and county officials, reached a settlement.

Among other things, the settlement allows use of the cave portal tasting patio. It allows only three of the winery’s 18 annual marketing events to be on the ridge and set the hours from noon to 9:30 p.m. It calls for the winery to hook up to PG&E or use solar for a permanent power source, as opposed to the generator now used.

The agreement also has phasing requirements. For example, six cork oaks must be planted and engineered plans for permanent power must be completed before the winery seeks building permits to reopen the cave portal patio.

Dillon expressed concerns about the ridgetop activities, given the county’s law to protect the scenic views of hills. The Planning Commission can’t approve something against county law. Neither can settlement agreements, she said.

“This viewshed ordinance that we have, that got put in place before I was on the Board, is really important to the residents of this valley,” Dillon said. “It’s really important and I’m concerned about inroads.”

She wondered if the outdoor marketing events on the ridge would use lights and was told “no.” County staff said no structures will be built on the ridge.

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“It’s talking about whether people can go to a place,” Ramos said. “And certainly, if the concern is whether people can go to a place on the ridgeline, I don’t believe that’s in the scope of our current viewshed (law).”

Dillon and Board Chair Brad Wagenknecht asked for a broader discussion of the viewshed ordinance at an upcoming meeting.

Ramos said a focus of the settlement discussions was how the parties could be good neighbors. That includes having The Caves at Soda Canyon notify its neighbors before ridgeline events occur.

During public comments, Angwin resident Mike Hackett delivered a critique of The Caves at Soda Canyon. He talked about the ventilation shaft that became a cave portal without a permit.

“If you lived by the rules, I wouldn’t be (up) here at all,” Hackett told Waugh.

Supervisor Ryan Gregory praised Stull and The Caves at Soda Canyon for reaching a settlement.

“This has been quite a settlement negotiation,” attorney Scott Greenwood-Meinert said on behalf of The Caves at Soda Canyon. “We are very pleased with the result.”


Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He was worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield. He is a graduate of UC Sa