For nearly a quarter-century, the Winery Definition Ordinance has anchored the Napa Valley’s slow-growth ideals by supporting the agricultural preserve through its stringent regulatory controls.

Yet today, a fragile balance exists. The proliferation of Napa’s hospitality industry has both bolstered and stressed the limits of the wine industry on whose back it was built.

Meanwhile, winery expansion applications continue to crowd planning agendas, punctuated by two massive proposals last summer. One of those has since been withdrawn. But the other, Raymond Vineyards’ request to double its production by increasing its permit by 750,000 gallons, remains in the planning pipeline with an application likely to be filed with the county in the next few months.

Debate over grape sourcing and interpretation of the winery ordinance’s grandfather clause tested industry relationships last year throughout stakeholder meetings tasked with addressing the legislation’s modern viability.

In February, the Planning Commission rightly decided to leave the ordinance unchanged.

That has not ended the fight for grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer, however. Beckstoffer, whose land abuts Raymond, wants greater discussion of the impact of new production permits and the application of the winery ordinance’s grandfather clause.

The wine production of more than 200 wineries that existed before the ordinance’s adoption in 1990 is exempt from its regulations, including the mandate that wine made in the county be produced from 75 percent Napa County grapes. If a grandfathered winery expands production, it can shift the use of Napa grapes from its pre-WDO permit to new production in order to adhere to the 75 percent rule for that new production.

Beckstoffer and some others believe that goes against the intent of the ordinance. Other industry leaders have provided documentation to the contrary, indicating such practice was expressly intended.

A grandfathered winery’s pre-ordinance permit is agricultural gold because of that exemption. To change the way the 75 percent rule is applied now would severely shake the local wine economy and would threaten the legality of the ordinance itself.

Lawsuits directed at the WDO could be catastrophic.

Yet, continued development and expansion in the wine and hospitality interests must be culled in some manner. There’s a tipping point at which the growth in Napa County tourism becomes detrimental.

Some, citing Napa’s clogged traffic, population growth, monochromatic economy and environmental concerns, argue we are already on the wrong side of that progress.

Is Napa drunk on its own wine production? Has tourism outgrown the valley’s rural limits?

At the least, it is difficult to argue that we are not heading in that direction.

Beckstoffer is concerned that when Napa Valley wineries are sold to business interests from outside the area, respect for the ag preserve is lost in the transaction. Corporations are out to maximize profit, not preserve the land, he believes.

In the absence of change to the Winery Definition Ordinance, Beckstoffer is advocating that wineries planning to expand provide detail on how they will meet the 75 percent rule, including grandfathered wineries that may be shifting Napa grapes from pre-WDO permits.

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He’d also like to open future stakeholder meetings to include a wider range of voices, citing the Sierra Club and the Visit Napa Valley tourism bureau as needed participants in the discussion of growth.

Beckstoffer’s clear self-interest in attempting to squash his neighbor’s expansion proposal should not cloud the validity of some of his concerns.

While the county was right to leave the 75 percent rule unaltered, some of the impacts of grape-source shifting need to be mitigated. As more outside interests invest in the valley, the principles of the agricultural preserve must be properly conveyed and guarded by those of us with full appreciation of its necessity. That includes the winemaking and hospitality industries, grapegrowers and local government.  

And it includes the city of Napa. The gates to the modern Napa Valley wine industry no longer open at the city’s northern border.

A large percentage of the wine and hospitality workforce lives in the city, which now also boasts 25 tasting rooms in the downtown area and luxury hotel projects that can compete with the Upvalley options.

New development should focus first on the county’s affordable housing issues in order to better balance the needs of those working in Napa’s signature industries.

Growth in the valley requires a delicate balance. More of its residents need to be involved in its management.

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