Winery planned for Oakville equestrian site

2013-02-27T21:02:00Z 2013-03-01T23:21:53Z Winery planned for Oakville equestrian sitePETER JENSEN Napa Valley Register
February 27, 2013 9:02 pm  • 

From Lissa Miller’s house atop a hill on Oakville Cross Road, a 180-degree view of the heart of the Napa Valley stretches out, from the Vaca Mountains to Mount St. Helena — a distant lump on the horizon — to the Mayacamas, with swaths of vineyards everywhere in between.

“It’s the only view like this in the valley,” said Miller, who bought the property with her late husband, Clark, 23 years ago.

It’s been a unique perch from which to witness the transformation of Napa Valley agriculture, from livestock, walnut trees and other crops decades ago, to almost entirely vineyards today.

“It’s just gone from walnuts and livestock to wineries,” said Miller, who breeds and raises horses on her 11.35-acre property.

That trend may inch forward next week. Miller has sold her property — and the view — to Calistoga-based B Cellars, which has plans to remove 19 walnut trees and put in a 45,000-gallon winery, a crush pad and caves for barrel storage.

B Cellars’ application is going before the county Planning Commission next Wednesday, and co-founder Duffy Keys said he’d prefer not to discuss the company’s plans until then.

“We’ve been working hard for the last several months complying with all the application processes,” Keys said. “We’re not here yet. I’d rather not get ahead of ourselves.”

The property sits on the eastern portion of the Oakville American Viticultural Area, renowned for cabernet sauvignon, said Linda Neal of Tierra Roja, which is just east of Miller’s property. Following in the footsteps of Robert Mondavi, Oakville grapegrowers and winemakers are a close-knit bunch, but Neal said she’d welcome B Cellars to the family.

“We’re really right in the sweet spot,” Neal said. “There’s just a wonderful group of people here striving to make the best wines.”

Oakville Winegrowers Association Executive Director Joyce Stavert said she also welcomes B Cellars.

“They’ve been in the business for awhile,” Stavert said. “The more people that come to Oakville to make great wines, the better.”

Miller said she grows less than two acres of cabernet grapes, plus some chardonnay, and has a permit for a 10,000 gallon winery that she never used.

B Cellars has purchased that permit, and is seeking to expand production and visitation from 10 people per day to 60, along with special marketing events, according to Napa County Planning Department documents.

While Miller said she’ll have to be out by mid-October, she and her horses won’t be going far — she’s moving to a 17-acre property on Whitehall Lane near St. Helena.

“It’s a big move for me,” Miller said. “Everything goes with me — horses, dogs, cows, fencing, barns.”

She said she sold the property for financial reasons, but declined to name the sale price. She and her husband, Clark, bought it for $287,000 a quarter century ago, but “it sold for a lot more than that,” she said. Clark Miller, a former defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers and the founder of a successful beverage distributing company, died in 2008.

They first tried to purchase the property in 1967, when it was listed at $42,000, but were unsuccessful, she said. After moving to Los Angeles because Clark Miller was playing for the Los Angeles Rams, Miller said they stayed in touch with owners.

“I was kind of determined,” Miller said. “I said if you ever decide to sell, let me know.”

The Millers have long raised and owned horses for cutting, a sport that gives riders two and a half minutes so they can separate two or three calves from a herd. She said her grandsons Jake and Christopher Brennan — both Justin-Siena High School students — are ranked as among the top performers in the West.

Her granddaughters, Makenna and Maya Miller, also ride horses, she said.

Miller said the decision to sell was “very sad” but moving to Whitehall puts her closer to her former residence on Zinfandel Lane.

“I’m almost making a full circle,” Miller said. “I really do like it here. You could be doing worse things.”

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