Does Costco-sized winery belong atop Soda Canyon Road?

2014-06-02T19:00:00Z 2014-06-02T20:45:03Z Does Costco-sized winery belong atop Soda Canyon Road?Diane Shepp Napa Valley Register
June 02, 2014 7:00 pm  • 

Donna Oldford, a local winery consultant, commented recently in an article for the Napa Valley Register (“Soda Canyon winery project draws neighbors’ ire,” May 26) on Mountain Peak Vineyards’ (MPV) proposed 100,000-gallon winery, 7 miles up the mountain — off Soda Canyon Road. In the article, she states “(the developer’s) entire winery is in a cave. If we can’t approve this winery, I don’t know the kind of winery we can approve.”

The obvious answer to this intended rhetorical question, from the perspective of a neighbor and citizen friendly to the preservation of Napa Valley, is a winery that is commensurate with its rural and remote location and drastically smaller than the version currently proposed. It would be a winery that meets the intention of the 1968 Agricultural Preserve, and focuses more on the preservation of vineyards and not on marketing and tourism.

As has been made abundantly clear in meetings between the developer and concerned neighbors, the sole focus of the MPV winery will be to maximize direct sales of its wines by attracting as many tourists as possible to the secluded facility. In fact, MPV has recently increased the number of visitors to the winery on an annual basis to 18,858. The original number of 18,496 was already preposterous given the remote location and inevitable challenges that will be faced with the deteriorated condition of Soda Canyon Road. This is particularly alarming to MPV neighbors, who over the past eight weeks have met with the developer, Steven Rea, three times and specifically requested a significant reduction in the number of visitors to the winery.

Mr. Rea and his consultants deflected questions regarding the size of both the winery and its marketing plan by claiming that the majority of its production facility would be constructed underground in 65,000 square feet of caves (an underground facility that is slightly smaller than a Costco Wholesale store). The developer claimed that building expansive production facilities underground would reduce noise and lower its “footprint” and that the tourism component was absolutely essential to MPV’s business plan.

After some reflection, it seems that the real reason MPV is building monstrous caves is so they can skate through the approval process at the county level and capitalize on grandiose plans for tourism and marketing.

Napa County regulations require that a winery cannot be larger than 25 percent of the parcel size on which it is built. By definition, MPV’s overall winery square footage meets the requirements of this regulation. However, the manner in which MPV is meeting the requirement — by hiding the 65,000 square foot “elephant” underground — may be nothing more than a crafty maneuver to create the facade that MPV will be a “low impact” winery.

While this may seem reasonable to developers, this amounts to nothing more than subterfuge of, and an end-run around, the decades-old intent of the 1968 Agricultural Preserve, which is to preserve the incredible agriculture component that has made Napa Valley one of the finest wine regions in the world.

In a 2008 article written by Paul Franson for the Napa Valley Vintners, before the 2010 amendment to the WDO and resulting onslaught of winery permit approvals, he states “2008 marks the 40th anniversary of the act that protected much of Napa Valley for agriculture. You need only look around the valley to recognize its success: the valley is lush with grapevines, not tract housing and shopping malls. It has maintained a rural character long lost by adjoining counties around San Francisco Bay.

If approved, MPV will set a precedent that could lead to a trend where developers propose massive wineries underground, leaving only tourism and marketing facilities aboveground. With grand-scale tourism and marketing, particularly in remote locations like Atlas Peak, the beloved rural character of Napa will be “long lost,” as wineries place what are the equivalent of shopping mall-sized winery production facilities underground in order to encourage shopping mall-sized crowds in the tourism and marketing facilities above-ground

Is that really the “kind of winery,” to use Ms. Oldford’s words, the county and the citizens of Napa County want? Wineries that bend the local regulations by going underground, building Costco-sized winery facilities below the surface so that they can increase their overall tourism and marketing plans aboveground?

The cumulative impacts of increased traffic, tourism, groundwater depletion and other environmental issues will prove to be disastrous to all the citizens and existing wineries in Napa County.

What will developers come up with next? Winery skyscrapers that house both production and tourism functions whose building footprint meets the county requirements, but whose actual size impact is 10 times the size of its parcel and towers 50 stories above the Napa landscape? Oh wait, that’s the Yountville Hill winery which is pending approval …

When and where will the county draw the line?

Shepp lives in Napa.

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

  1. Cadence
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    Cadence - June 02, 2014 9:04 pm
    Sounds as though you need a conversation with Susan Bishop.
  2. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - June 02, 2014 9:08 pm
    With the rapid increase of direct sales wineries with the increase of traffic, tourism, etc., are we in danger of starting a process that may well end up killing the goose that laid the golden egg?
  3. glenroy
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    glenroy - June 03, 2014 7:16 am
    Nope....does not belong but I wouldn’t drag Costco into the equation either...maybe use the Cow Palace something along those lines.
    Being on the same side we have a blue line creek running through our property the uncaring vineyard owners/managers around here just keep pumping away killing the steelhead fry just about every year. There really is no reason to irrigate in the first place...vineyards do fine dry farming.
    It didn't use to be that way...people cared about their neighbors water, the deer, birds, fish etc...not no more it's all about them not us.

  4. glenroy
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    glenroy - June 03, 2014 9:57 am
    Already happening....if you don't sell direct you're on the way down...
  5. Non-native
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    Non-native - June 03, 2014 12:41 pm
    Sometimes I wonder if people just don't much care about anything anymore as long as they are happy and taken care of. It seems sad to me that most of the time people don't even know their neighbors, and never even venture into the great outdoors so they can develop a love for it, and the creatures that inhabit it!
  6. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - June 03, 2014 12:43 pm
    Wow glenroy, well stated.
  7. tommerle
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    tommerle - June 04, 2014 11:49 am
    Whatever the temperature, it's a cold cruel world out there. Fortunately we live in paradise.
  8. Whineville Resident
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    Whineville Resident - June 04, 2014 1:05 pm
    Well, there are quite a few wineries in the County that produce 100K gallons. The question for one not located on a major thoroughfare would seem to be how many of the grapes for production are nearby or are clearly under the control of that winery interest. Wine caves are abundant in this area and certainly are not "bending the rules of the County." In fact, they are encouraged as an energy-efficient means of achieving climate control naturally, without littering the landscape with structures unnecessarily. I don't think wineries think of themselves as tourist destinations. Rather, they think of their visitors as "customers." When people buy wine at a winery in Napa County, the tax revenue goes to our County, instead of to another place when a bottle of wine is sold at a wine boutique or a Safeway Market.
  9. NativeSonNapa
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    NativeSonNapa - June 05, 2014 5:58 pm
    Those customers of yours may indeed find Soda Canyon Road can to a fickle and unforgiving roadway for those not familiar with the significant safety issues it poses.

    I have now heard the argument three times that if the winery is "nearby" its vineyards it will preclude the need to truck the grapes 'down the hill' and into the valley floor for processing thereby saving truck trips. Has anyone stopped to think how all of the following materials and services "get to" a winery? Wine-making supplies, barrels, bottles, corks, capsules, the mobile bottling line, the various vendors, employees, contractors, the visitors, sorry "customers"..this list goes on and on and on.

    Want to reduce the overall carbon footprint? Then have the wineries be on the valley floor not way out the sticks where you have to burn significant amounts of fossil fuel to get everything to and from a remotely-located winery. Call it what you want but don't call it energy-efficient, that is a thinly-veiled subterfuge
  10. firekat
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    firekat - June 12, 2014 8:09 am
    "Whatever the temperature, it's a cold cruel world out there. Fortunately we live in paradise."

    "You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye" - Last Resort/Hotel California/The Eagles

    It's all at saturation level. The current amount of development countywide is un-sustainable. The resources are gone. The impact on all factors is beyond any sensible limit.

    You can't have by definition a Agricultural Watershed if you suck all the water up to support a luxury crop. There has to be limits, and they for all practical purposes have been exceeded. There is no water to be shed when everyone gets done with their hood ornament wineries.

    A pragmatic eye would tell you that at this point in time Napa County is treading down the same path of the rest of the counties in the Bay Area, with just a small variation on a theme - the mighty grape.

    Can we stop this leap off the precipice?
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