A little more than two years ago, Raymond Vineyards set off public argument about winery development when it went before the Napa County Planning Commission asking to double in size and increase its marketing plans.
The request was never granted in light of the criticism levied at the winery, including pointed remarks from longtime Napa Valley grapegrower — and neighbor — Andy Beckstoffer.
Beckstoffer argued the owner, Jean-Charles Boisset, wouldn’t be able to get enough Napa Valley grapes to produce 1.5 million gallons of wine, an increase from 750,000 gallons, while complying with the county’s 75 percent rule. The proposal was pulled for retooling.
On Wednesday, the project will return before the Planning Commission, but without its most controversial element — the production increase. The new plans only ask to increase the daily maximum visitation from 400 to 500 people, and to shift its marketing plan to allow 50 total events per year, including two 500-person events, four for 250 people, six with 150 people, 12 for 100 people, and 26 for 50 people.
Whether the project will still face public opposition is going to be a litmus test to gauge how far public criticism of winery projects has shifted in the last two years. Some neighbors have written letters to county planning staff raising questions and concerns about the revised project.
Neighbor Pat Friday wrote to planning staff in May, asking the county to consider the Raymond application in conjunction with the recently approved Castellucci Winery, which is going to be on the corner of Zinfandel Lane and Silverado Trail, down the road from Raymond.
“The combination of these two wineries’ visitors, employees and production trucks is way too much traffic for our road and residential neighborhood,” Friday wrote. “I would like to encourage you to consider the impact of the combination of these projects, traffic snarls at the corner of Zinfandel and Highway 29, increased noisy trucks on Zinfandel, as well as any additional winery applications that increases traffic on Zinfandel Lane.”
Tom Blackwood, a representative for Raymond, did not return a phone call seeking comment on the project’s revision Friday afternoon. Napa County planning staff members are recommending approval of the project’s use permit modifications.
When the Raymond project initially went before the Planning Commission in June 2012, few winery projects such as new use permits or expansions of existing use permits were seeing much opposition.
In March of that year, members of the wine industry spoke out in opposition to a proposal by Reata Winery, now Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, which asked to expand from 200,000 gallons of production to 1.1 million with an extra 2.4 million gallons of bulk wine bottling. That would have made it the fifth-largest winery in Napa Valley, but raised questions about how it could comply with the 75 percent rule when consuming an estimated 7 to 11 percent of the county’s grape harvest.
The Planning Commission gave them 800,000 gallons plus 350,000 gallons of bulk wine bottling as a compromise. Three months later, Raymond’s request brought up a similar debate.
It also set off months of discussions within the wine industry and among its trade groups about whether the county was growing enough grapes to satisfy the 75 percent rule in light of increased winery development.
That process culminated in a Planning Commission meeting in early 2013 about whether any changes needed to be made to the Winery Definition Ordinance, which contains the requirement that Napa Valley wines contain at least 75 percent Napa Valley grapes. Staff and the commissioners, at the time, agreed that it did not need changing.