Several signal Napa winery-related events occurred in the last week or so:
1) Signs, and winery employees, have started to show up in front of more winery tasting rooms than ever before, waving away would-be customers who did not have prior appointments, or who would not fit into the overcrowded parking lots, or (maybe) would have exceeded the legally allowed number of visitors.
2) At a Board of Supervisors meeting, Chuck Wagner, owner of Caymus Vineyards and related Wagner Family of Wine labels, manned-up and (in his words) took his “lumps” in concluding the settlement of alleged winery permit violations that cost him a $1 million fine. (Full disclosure: I worked in the Caymus tasting room for 10 years.)
3) There is a steadily heating-up election campaign going on which is including a considerable focus on winery regulations, the enforcement thereof, or lack of it, and whether some incumbent supervisors will be replaced.
In May of last year, the Napa County grand jury published a report resulting from its investigation of Napa County winery regulation. (More disclosure: I was involved in that, too.)
Among other things the grand jury found “In the audit years 2011-2013, the number of wineries that were out of compliance on one or more activities audited varied from 29 percent to 40 percent. The names of non-compliant wineries are not released to the public.”
The grand jury recommended that the county Planning Department “increase the number of yearly winery code enforcement audits from the current rate of 20 per year so that every winery would be audited at least every five years …”
The jury also recommended that the Planning Department “make the inspection reports of non-compliant wineries more transparent to the public in much the same fashion as health code violations of restaurants are reported.”
Subsequently, a great many more suggestions and recommendations on the subject have come from a number of sources, all reflecting an ongoing, and growing, level of public interest and concern about the subject, and its relationship to traffic and other quality-of-life matters in Napa Valley.
Substantive changes in regulations or enforcement procedures have been bruited about, but none are yet in force. And there are presently pending applications for 20-plus new wineries and as many or more amendments to the permits of existing wineries.
Perhaps a $1 million fine, the need to turn away visitors beyond permit limits, and a looming election are coming together to focus minds. Even voters’ minds.