ST. HELENA — With help from members of the wine industry, the city of St. Helena is preparing to loosen restrictions on small wineries.
In a 5-0 vote on Tuesday, the St. Helena Planning Commission endorsed new regulations that would allow small wineries in the city limits to offer marketing events, tours and tastings by appointment. Currently there are more than a half dozen wineries within the city limits, city officials said.
The old ordinance prohibited public tours and tastings and required that winery operations be subordinate to residential use. Over the last few years, the increasing importance of direct sales led several small wineries to ask the city to relax its restrictions on marketing events.
The rules await City Council approval before they would take effect.
The commission was ready to sign off on a new ordinance in July, but agreed to hold off so current and prospective small winery operators could provide input. Industry members met July 23, in a meeting arranged by the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce.
Rich Salvestrin of Salvestrin Winery and St. Helena Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Pam Simpson thanked the commission for taking the extra time to get feedback. Both said they support the new regulations.
“We have a much better ordinance today” because of the additional comments, said Commission Chair Matthew Heil.
One of the changes to the ordinance that came out of that meeting was a requirement that 50 percent of a small winery’s production must come from grapes grown on the premises. Eight-five percent of the wine produced must come from Napa Valley grapes — a tighter restriction than the county’s 75 percent rule.
The 50/85 rule is “a solution that’s in the best interests of our city and the stakeholders who were present at the meeting,” said Heil, who attended the industry meeting along with Commissioner Brian Russell.
While the ordinance doesn’t limit production by gallon, the 50 percent limit is intended to ensure that production is proportional to the size of the parcel. The ordinance also limits winery coverage — including buildings, access roads and paved areas — to 25 percent of the property, to a maximum of 10 acres.
The extent of marketing events, including hours, will be determined through the use permit process.
The commission had been scheduled to discuss the Pope Street housing development proposed by Calistoga Affordable Housing, but the item was continued to Aug. 20 at the applicant’s request.