YOUNTVILLE — A proposed 100,000-gallon winery on Yountville Hill has attracted strong opposition from some neighbors who say it will be ill-suited and precedent-setting for the Napa Valley, although proponents call the winery appropriately sized.
The winery, which is planned to be called Yountville Hill Winery, would occupy 10 acres east of Highway 29 and south of Yount Mill Road. It would oust the former Castle in the Clouds bed and breakfast, now defunct.
In its place would be a two-story, glass-enclosed winery, which is seeking approval for up to 285 visitors day and would be reached by a winding driveway with parking lots accessible from Highway 29.
The Napa County Planning Commission has yet to approve a use permit for this new winery. It’s scheduled to hear the matter during its meeting Wednesday, but the developers are requesting a delay until June to work out issues with the neighbors.
Tod Mostero and Julia Levitan, who work for the nearby Dominus Estate, take issue with a number of aspects of the projects.
Mostero said he objects to a glass-enclosed, hillside winery being able to have a series of events after 6 p.m., which he maintains would cause it to be lit up and visible from Highway 29 and a number of other vantage points in Oakville.
“It will be lit up like a light bulb at night for their parties,” Mostero said.
But Eric Sklar, co-owner of the development company behind the project, denied that the winery would be obtrusive. Most days, the winery would shut down at dusk, and it’s required to install downward-facing lighting to minimize visibility, he said.
Sklar said there may be 20 events per year that would occur after-hours, and the developers would work to operations from view.
“The building’s going to be shielded,” Sklar said. “Everything we’re doing there is an improvement on what’s there now.”
Mostero and Levitan also object to the visitation the winery is pursuing, saying the 37 planned parking spaces wouldn’t be sufficient to handle the crowds. Furthermore, the access driveway is located on a particularly busy and dangerous stretch of Highway 29, Levitan said.
It can take up to 15 minutes in heavy traffic to successfully turn on and off, even with the assistance of a turn lane in the middle of the highway, she said.
“It’s dangerous even with that middle turn lane,” Levitan said.
Construction would require the removal of 120 trees, although the county is going to require replanting more than 180 if the use permit is approved.
The project is seeking to drill a well from the top of the hill to tap into the aquifer beneath the valley floor, which Mostero said is infeasible and wouldn’t provide what’s needed for the winery and 2.5 acres of vineyard already on the property.
Sklar acknowledged that water sourcing is an issue the development team is continuing to work on, and hopes to have resolved by the meeting in June.
“We’re in the process right now,” Sklar said.
Mostero and Levitan also raised the issue of grape-sourcing, as the new winery will have to comply with the 75 percent rule dictating that Napa wines be made with 75 percent Napa grapes.
Levitan said the winery will be a misuse of the Winery Definition Ordinance, which includes the 75 percent rule and sets forth the accepted notion that all commercial development in the Ag Preserve must have a strong connection to agriculture. She considers Yountville Hill a swanky visitor center with a winery attached.
“It’s a beautiful view,” Levitan said of the vistas from the top. “We can’t deny that. But it’s not the place for a 100,000-gallon winery.”
As such, Mostero said he sees a grave precedent being set if the winery project is approved.
“If every hillside in Napa had one of these projects, can you imagine what we’d become?” Mostero asked.
“It would be Disneyland,” Levitan said.
But Sklar dismissed the criticism, saying “that’s all just plain silly.”
Sklar said the owners already have scattered vineyard properties, and plan to acquire two to three more. “It will be supported by several hundred acres of grapes,” he said.
More importantly, Sklar said the project is in line with what the WDO wants because it doesn’t take vineyard land out of production. Also, the hillside isn’t suited for grapegrowing, he said.
“It’s a huge improvement on what is on the property now,” Sklar said. “We are perfectly willing to slow down the process to allow neighbors and citizens of the Napa Valley to have their concerns heard. We feel like we’re doing exactly what the WDO’s calling for.”