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.

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?

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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.


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