There was a front page story in last Wednesday’s Napa Valley Register (“County plans rules enforcement”) that struck me more for what it did not say as for what it did.

The very first sentence set the tone: “Napa County’s unfolding clampdown on winery rule-breakers appears to grow tighter, with a deadline possible for violators seeking after-the-fact approvals."

What crackdown? The county has approved every request for an ex-post-facto change to a winery’s use permit that I am aware of in the six years since I moved to Napa.

Moreover, there has been no “crackdown.” No winery has been required to tear down buildings, bury caves it dug, or unplant vines that were put in without authorization.

And the supervisors, bless their weak-willed hearts, are only talking about possibly starting enforcement next June. Meanwhile, the winery operators all know that the way to do business in Napa County is to apply for the permits they know can be approved without controversy; and then, once they have a permit in hand, go about their business any way they damn well please.

They know the county will not enforce the rules. Neither the supervisors nor the bureaucracy have the will to make the guys with money play by the rules. Rules are for the rest of us. (Remember the red-light cameras, which only caught dangerous law-breakers. They were removed as soon as soon as there was a protest from those who didn’t like getting caught.)

If the supervisors were serious, they would put wineries on notice that no applications for ex-post-facto use permit changes will be accepted after Sept. 30, and that until such variances are approved, wineries must fully comply with their current use permits, no exceptions.

The Napa Valley Vintners could help by making it abundantly clear that they support the rules. How? They know who the transgressors are. Report them and do it very publicly. Pressure from peers can be very persuasive.

Thomas G. Gans


Editor's note: The Register asked the Napa Valley Vintners about the author's comment, and spokesman Rex Stults responded: "Hopefully by now it is abundantly clear that the Napa Valley Vintners encourages all businesses with county-issued use permits to understand and abide by those permits.  Our words have been matched by our actions.  We have conducted numerous compliance workshops for our members over the years, often in collaboration with county officials.  Past NVV leaders were cognizant that a small number of bad actors could make life more difficult for all local wineries.  I foresee the NVV continuing to encourage and help folks follow the rules.  I do not see our role as tattle tales.  That said, much of the county’s enforcement actions are complaint-driven.  Any member of the public that witnesses a use permit violation may report that concern to the county."