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Downtown Bounty Hunter building proposal is still alive sans Bounty Hunter
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After four years of inaction, a proposal for a four-story, 28,180-square-foot building at the corner at First and Main streets, once intended to serve as a new home for Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Spirits, is still alive.

But Bounty Hunter is no longer involved with the project and hasn’t been since August 2019, said CEO Stefan Matulich in an email. The restaurant will remain at its current location nearby on First Street, according to Matulich.

“We have had some leadership changes at Bounty Hunter over recent years, and with that comes some changes in direction,” Matulich wrote. “I can tell you that right now we feel strongly that the Bounty Hunter restaurant is in a good place in its current home at 975 First Street and do not have plans to move from that location.”

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Nearing expiration, the original building proposal was approved for a second two-year permit extension by the city of Napa Planning Commission last week. But there will be a few differences in a new proposal developers estimate will come before the city of Napa planning commission later this year.

Perhaps most prominently, plans for a “social club” for the upper floors of the building are in the works, said Jason Johnson, a technology entrepreneur and Napa resident for about three years.

Johnson is working on the new building proposal alongside developer Tuscany Building LLC — which is owned by Argentine billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni, who formerly owned Bounty Hunter as well but sold it to Diego Marcos Borrero in 2019. Johnson previously founded August Home, a smart home lock system, and is a managing partner of Founders Den, a San Francisco technology start-up incubator.

“The Bulgheroni family purchased Bounty Hunter, the business. And shortly thereafter they cleared the site at First and Main to build a building,” Johnson said. “Long story short, they chose not to move the Bounty Hunter restaurant and not leave that building. And then I met the family in the past year and have started working with them.”

A non-Bounty Hunter restaurant will still be planned to occupy the ground floor of the building, Johnson said. The “social club,” Johnson added, will occupy the upper three floors of the building and offer an experience similar to Founders Den.

“What we’re looking for is a place where, during the day, people can take business meetings and they can work and hang out with their laptops,” Johnson said. “… A place that, in the evening, becomes more of a social environment — with a bar and food and is just a fun place to spend time with friends or business associates.”

Johnson added that the idea for the social club was largely driven by him. Carlos Hartmann, Vice President of Tuscany Building LLC, said company leadership had been going back and forth on different solutions for the property, but the process had been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and fires in Napa. Then, a few months ago, Jason came along with the idea for the social club.

“I moved to Napa a few years ago and have been looking for a social club personally and discovered that there really is no social club in the Napa Valley and decided that we need one,” Johnson said. “… We’re extremely excited about the growth and the development of downtown Napa. With Anthropologie opening up this week, it’s really exciting to seeing what’s happening on First Street, and we look forward to contributing to a very vibrant downtown Napa.”

Hartmann said the original building plan was important to accommodate needs of the organization, but those needs have been resolved in other ways. The project is still moving forward with its original architects, Taylor Lombardo Architects, he said, and most aspects of the building design will still be the same.

“We as the owner are still certainly involved, but we added the expertise and the ideas of Jason and his group to make this happen hopefully,” Hartmann said.

The building proposal was originally approved by the city’s planning commission in June 2017. At the time, Bounty Hunter founder and then-CEO Mark Pope anticipated construction would last two and a half years and cost $15 million to $20 million, according to previous Register reports. Approval arrived about two weeks before the planned departure of Pope, who sold the multi-million company to Bulgheroni in 2014 and stayed on as CEO for three additional years.

The first two-year extension to the approval was granted by city staff in 2019, according to the planning commission staff report. But the downtown lot — which once held the Don Perico and Tuscany restaurants — has remained empty aside from grass and assorted plants sprouting up behind a wooden fence. At some point, a Bounty Hunter sign was removed from the fence.

The second extension was requested by Pam Lao of Taylor Lombardo Architects in a letter dated June 22. Lao said in the letter that updated drawings will be forthcoming as the firm works through modifications with the owner.

In the resolution approving the second extension, the commission requested that the developer maintain the sidewalk along Main and First streets, repair the wooden fence, and install a mural or some other form of graphics on the fence within 90 days.

Editor's Note: This item has been modified to correct the current ownership of Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Spirits. It is owned by Diego Marcos Borrero, who bought it from former owner Alejandro Bulgheroni in September of 2019.

Wine country
The varied architecture of Napa Valley’s wine country
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Joseph Phelps Vineyards 

Joe Phelps, the patriarch of Joseph Phelps Vineyards, was a builder that first came to the Napa Valley to build another winery. John Marsh Davis was the architect on that project and he and Joe hit it off instantly. Davis would then design the Phelps family faciltiies.

When the Peju family first moved to Napa nearly 40 years ago, they found that their new home was the true definition of farm country. The grape-growing properties in the area were called ranches, not vineyards, but over time this cow-town perception would change as tourists flocked to the area.

“We’ve watched orchards transform to vineyards and wineries emerge across the valley and into the hills,” said PEJU’s Christine Lilienthal. “With this growth, property values escalated and landscaping became more manicured … However, the sense of community and agriculture remain at the core of this beautiful valley.”

Work done by the The Napa Valley Ag Preserve has ensured the preservation of the valley’s wine country through zoning ordinances and perpetual conservation agreements, but that is not to say that development has been insignificant.

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From a handful of commercial wineries in the mid-1800s to the 400-some that exist today, the Napa Valley terroir has since hosted plenty of intriguing, intentional and innovative buildings, each with their own goals in mind. Futuristic fortresses, underground operations and everything in between seems to have a place in Napa Valley, whether they sit highway-side or are tucked away from the main stretch of road.

The Design

As with many wine families, the Groths of Groth Vineyards & Winery also came to the valley before many commercial entities had staked their claim on the surrounding property. After a successful career at Atari Corporation, Suzanne Groth’s father Dennis uprooted the family to start up their very own winery, working alongside architect Robert Gianelli to bring the business to fruition.

Drawn to the style of the Spanish missions along the El Camino Real here in California, Gianelli and Mrs. Groth worked together for about eight years to design and obtain the proper permits for the winery. In 1990, the light pink (now peach) mission-style winery was finished, complete with a tower, paneled ceilings and the iconic curved roof.

Sam Jones, Register 

Son of William and Leticia Jarvis, Will Jarvis is now at the helm of their cave winery in Napa. 

“I always attribute them being raised here in California and going to school in the public school system as part of their reason for choosing California Mission as the design,” said Groth. “As they were meeting with an architect and trying to figure it out, what was on their mind was California, and if the state were to have a type of architecture, they felt like that was it.”

The inside of the winery building is colorful and bold, filled with Groth’s paintings, interesting furniture pieces found by the architect, and is stacked with large, circular windows overlooking the estate vineyard and courtyard.

“The missionaries were bringing in the townspeople and having gatherings, and they would put these courtyards in place a lot of the time,” said Groth. “They would just use whatever they had on hand, so that’s why you see all the clay roof tiles, the pillars, the adobe archways … it really took them by hold as a young couple.”

Similarly, the Jarvis couple and their son William also took up residence in Napa and began pursuing their own winery in the post-Judgment of Paris '80s, and ultimately broke ground in 1990. An ambitious endeavor, Jarvis started tunneling into the mountainside and was able to construct an underground cave space large enough to encapsulate the entire winemaking process.

“It was intended to supplement the winemaking by giving you very controlled and consistent temperature and humidity conditions,” said the now-grown William Jarvis. “We’re really trying to control every aspect as much as possible, and this was an extension of that.”

The cave’s main tunnel makes a full loop around the winery, passing by the winemaking lab, crush and storage facilities and tasting rooms in one rotation.

“One of the main reasons for that was so that the winemaker is never more than maybe 150 yards away,” said Jarvis. With a shout, you can hear just about anyone you need to inside the Jarvis caves. That is — if the underground waterfall isn’t running.

“As they were tunneling into the mountain, we ran into a natural underground stream,” said Jarvis. “That gave us the inspiration to have this waterfall and stream running through the caves.”

Jarvis says this also helps regulate the cave’s humidity, as these higher levels tend to result in less lost liquid in the aging process. Just a few steps outside these seemingly rustic caves though is the “Crystal Chamber” filled with amethyst and quartz treasures, and if you look up at the ceiling, will find Jarvis’ dad’s addition of a fiber optic chandelier.

Sam Jones, Register 

The original model for Quixote Winery still sits inside the building. 

“My parents have always been very hands-on in the wine-making process, and I’ve followed in their footsteps,” he said.

Less traditional than the wine cave model is the Seussical architectural work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, which is on display on Silverado Trail’s Quixote Winery. Marked by its vibrant hues and funky stature, Quixote is the brainchild of Carl Doumani, who owned and restored Stags’ Leap Winery from 1970-1996.

You won’t be able to find a single straight line, even floor or uniform pattern at Quixote, as Hundertwasser made it a point to ensure that nothing was perfect. After the winery was completed, he even went in with a hammer to crack any floor tiles or columns that seemed too good to be true.

Because of the absurdity baked into every room and walkway at Quixote, the building took 10 years to complete, but ultimately stuck pretty closely to the original modeled design. Mosaic tiles round out the structure, with a stupa-like metallic topper popping out of the roof.

Ten miles northwest is the also-eccentric tasting room for Flora Springs, which emulates the cave style of Jarvis with the asymmetry and playful nature of Quixote. Right alongside Highway 29 at the gateway to St. Helena, Flora Springs certainly grabs the attention of those driving by. A striped mound-shape, the tasting room differs significantly from the surrounding bistros and minimalist exteriors.

“We wanted the building to feel like the entrance to a wine cave built into a mountainside, so we used bent plywood to give the structure its curvature and painted the outside to represent the natural geologic striations of the earth,” said founder John Komes. “The name Flora Springs combines the name of Flora Komes, my mother and our matriarch, with the natural springs that run in the western hillsides, so we wanted to capture the natural energy of the springs as well.”

Komes has a background in construction, so he wasn’t too hung up with the building process and was sure to incorporate a laid-back meeting space outside on the backside of the facility.

“Beautiful wine caves have and always will be a draw for guests to the Napa Valley, so it’s nice to be able to offer a sense of that with our tasting room, but our outdoor patio and rooftop deck have a different sensibility,” said Komes.

The materials

In construction, the materials you are working with are just as important as the architectural design. For the sustainability-driven CADE Winery — owned by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Gordon Getty and John Conover — this meant incorporating materials like recycled steel-concrete mixed with fly ash, a coal by-product that reduces the use of cement, cork flooring, recycled insulation and the like.

Flora Springs 

With a striking pattern and shape supposed to emulate the traditional wine cave model, the Flora Springs tasting room grabs the attention of those driving by on Highway 29. 

As Napa Valley’s first organically farmed, LEED Gold Certified estate winery, CADE worked with architect Juan Carlos Fernandez to be as “least intrusive as possible” to the surrounding environment during construction, which was completed in 2009.

“When we first built, we only removed two trees from the entire property,” said Conover. “We wanted to sort of blend in, embrace the steep hillsides and forest surrounding us … We loved the impact of the astonishing view of the entire Napa Valley below, and wanted to design an experience around that for guests who visit from all over the world.”

The result is a sleek, futuristic, almost-hidden winery building that curves alongside the mountain. At the highest point is the tasting patio and salon building with an infinity pool overlooking the vineyard, and at the deepest is the cave where all the winemaking magic happens. Wherever you are at CADE, you are surrounded by the natural environment.

“The way that Juan Carlos was able to capture that with the framing of the long concrete wall and the tasting salon building, as well as the infinity pool’s ever-changing reflection, is really the breathtaking factor that moves our guests on a daily basis,” said Conover.

In the vein of sustainability also is the principle of reuse and restoration, something that the family behind Joseph Phelps Vineyards understands all too well. Initially built in the early '70s, the Joseph Phelps historic building has been renovated multiple times since construction, with the largest update taking place between 2013 and 2015. However, the towering ceilings and wooden beams persist.

“We really tried to stay true to our heritage in terms of style and architecture while making updates and more modern innovations as time passes,” said third-generation Phelps, Elizabeth Phelps Neuman. “We tend toward ageless aesthetics, but it is always fun to see where we started, and how looks cycle back into style, such as 1970s fonts used on tasting room materials and wood beams.”

“Joe Phelps, our father and grandfather, is our foundation,” she said. “So while we are now thinking ahead to our next 50 years, it is so important to us to preserve and honor our past, including the redwood used from the original winery building and much of the original design.”

The details

Every winery has its own sense of style, with different artwork lining the walls or patterns lining the floors. But some Napa Valley entities take these details up another notch, like Fibonacci sequence Easter eggs tucked throughout the Mira Winery property or the emblematic “To Kalon” archway and bell tower at Robert Mondavi Winery.

Rutherford’s PEJU is one of these over-achievers. Back in 1981, PEJU patriarch Tony Peju was roused by the Los Angeles River and Garden Center — then known as Lawry’s California Center — designed by architect Calvin Straub.

Sam Jones, Register 

The California mission style architecture was key to the design ideas of Dennis and Judy Groth, who would complete their family winery in 1990. 

“Tony reached out to him, and although Straub was near retirement, he agreed to design the present tower at PEJU and the remaining second tower that the winery plans to build,” said Lilienthal. “Tony and Herta (HB) Peju are also both avid gardeners, and to help offset the hard work of starting a winery with very meager funds they turned to planting and growing as a source of relaxation and joy.”

Peju had an entire vision for how his winery’s visitors would walk through the gardens, all oriented around three specific design features. First, guests would enter through the sycamore tree-lined drive and wind to the parking lot, and from there would walk through the willow creek to a koi pond before meandering through a second gate called “Balanced Movement.”

“Guests take in the shimmering water fountains, [and] they then cross a bridge to enter the 50-foot-high tower topped with a copper roof,” said Lilienthal.

Inside, a German stained glass piece depicts three muses in a garden. Outside, sculptures are scattered throughout the grounds.

“Tony Peju has always been drawn to beautiful images,” said Lilienthal. “He met sculptor Welton Rotz and was captivated by the beauty of his work and decided to add them to the gardens.”

Rotz’s work was taken from Greek mythology and the stories of Demeter and Persephone, and Lilienthal says it was mostly done in Carrara marble.

“Tony suggested to Rotz that the works could be enhanced with a water feature, which was incorporated into all three pieces at PEJU,” she said. “The other important artist is Phillip Dizick, who mostly worked in bronze.”

Dizick’s work at PEJU includes the winery gate, a sculpture of a woman sleeping on her side, bronze nymphettes, a mythology-inspired carving of a PEJU’s leading lady pouring wine, and a functional bench. The property is also home to Grecian pillars depicting Athena and Aphrodite, a copper roof and vintage light fixtures for the tower.

“The Peju family believes beauty and artistry, including the physical setting, form part of the overall wine tasting experience,” said Lilienthal. “It also makes the experience of visiting and tasting wine in Napa Valley more approachable to the connoisseur and the novice by offering more to see and do ... the presentation is about engaging all the senses.”

Land Use
Two Napa wineries clean up use permit violations
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Amizetta Estate winery and Ehlers Estate winery are the latest wineries to rectify use permit violations with Napa County.

The case involving Amizetta winery came up on Wednesday. The amount of wine production and visitors involved was low enough that the hearing took place before the county Zoning Administrator.

Amizetta winery near St. Helena was approved in 1984 for 12,000 gallons of production, no tasting visitors and three full-time employees.

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Instead, it has 15,600 gallons of annual production, up to 240 visitors a week and four full-time and four part-time employees. The winery stepped forward under the county’s voluntary code compliance program to try to fix things.

“I really appreciate your willingness to bring your project into compliance,” Zoning Administrator Brian Bordona said.

Amizetta winery also asked for expansions beyond the code issues. Among them was increasing wine production to 20,000 gallons annually, decreasing weekly visitation to 210 a week but adding 10 annual marketing events with a total of 170 guests and building a new hospitality building.

Bordona granted the requests.

Perry Clark of the winery said his parents came to the property in 1979, when it had a small hunting cabin. It’s been a small family operation for 40 years.

“The market’s changed and the needs changed for small wineries,” Clark said.

Last week, Ehlers Estate winery near St. Helena came to the county Planning Commission. It, too, wanted code compliance issues cleaned up, plus some further expansions.

Ehlers Estate had approval for 25,000 gallons of annual production, eight full-time employees and up to 11 tasting room visitors a week.

Instead, it has up to 29,000 gallons of annual production, 12 full-time and two part-time employees and up to 300 tasting room visitors a week.

The winery asked for several changes beyond remedying the code violations. Among them was going to 35,000 gallons annual production and up to 400 tasting room visitors a week.

On the visitor front, the commission was willing to recognize what is already happening at the winery. But it didn’t want to go beyond that.

“I believe this system was created for people to come into compliance, not come into compliance and ask for more in the midst of it,” Commissioner Dave Whitmer said.

The commission was willing to do such things as expand wine production to 35,000 gallons annually. Whitmer said wine production is a primary agricultural use on the property.

Attorney Scott Greenwood-Meinert on behalf of the winery explained how Laura Diaz Munoz became winemaker and general manager in 2018.

“While getting her arms around her new job, she realized there was an issue. Her predecessor had lost sight of the winery’s use permit first approved in 1975,” he said.

Visitation had grown organically over the years as new buildings and water systems were approved. Layered onto that was the increasing shift to direct-to-consumer sales in the wine industry, he said.

“It’s a common story,” he said.

Whitmer praised the winery for stepping forward to try to rectify its use permit violations.

“I think that is something I want to honor and recognize, that there’s an attempt here to make that right,” he said.


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Committee OKs $3.5T spending plan
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WASHINGTON — Democrats pushed a $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill strengthening social safety net and climate programs through the House Budget Committee on Saturday, but one Democrat voted “no,” illustrating the challenges party leaders face in winning the near unanimity they'll need to push the sprawling package through Congress.

The Democratic-dominated panel, meeting virtually, approved the measure on a near party-line vote, 20-17. Passage marked a necessary but minor checking of a procedural box for Democrats by edging it a step closer to debate by the full House. Under budget rules, the committee wasn’t allowed to significantly amend the 2,465-page measure, the product of 13 other House committees.

More important work has been happening in an opaque procession of mostly unannounced phone calls, meetings and other bargaining sessions among party leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers. President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have led a behind-the-scenes hunt for compromises to resolve internal divisions and, they hope, allow approval of the mammoth bill soon.

Pelosi told fellow Democrats Saturday that they “must” pass the social and environment package this week, along with a separate infrastructure bill and a third measure preventing a government shutdown on Friday. Her letter to colleagues underscored the pile of crucial work Congress' Democratic majority faces in coming days and seemed an effort to build urgency to resolve long-standing disputes quickly.

"The next few days will be a time of intensity," she wrote.

Moderate Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., joined all 16 Republicans on the Budget committee in opposing the legislation. His objections included one that troubles many Democrats: a reluctance to back a bill with provisions that would later be dropped by the Senate.

Many Democrats don't want to become politically vulnerable by backing language that might be controversial back home, only to see it not become law. That preference for voting only on a social and environment bill that's already a House-Senate compromise could complicate Pelosi's effort for a House vote this week.

Peters was among three Democrats who earlier this month voted against a plan favored by most in his party to lower pharmaceutical costs by letting Medicare negotiate for the prescription drugs it buys.

Party leaders have tried for weeks to resolve differences among Democrats over the package's final price tag, which seems sure to shrink. There are also disputes over which initiatives should be reshaped, among them expanded Medicare, tax breaks for children and health care, a push toward cleaner energy and higher levies on the rich and corporations.

Democrats' wafer-thin majorities in the House and Senate mean compromise is mandatory. Before the measure the Budget panel approved Saturday even reaches the House floor, it is expected to be changed to reflect whatever House-Senate accords have been reached, and additional revisions are likely.

The overall bill embodies the crux of Biden's top domestic goals. Budget panel chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., cited “decades of disinvestment” on needs like health care, education, child care and the environment as the rationale for the legislation.

“The futures of millions of Americans and their families are at stake. We can no longer afford the costs of neglect and inaction. The time to act is now," Yarmuth said.

Republicans say the proposal is unneeded, unaffordable amid accumulated federal debt exceeding $28 trillion and reflects Democrats' drive to insert government into people's lives. Its tax boosts will cost jobs and include credits for buying electric vehicles, purchases often made by people with comfortable incomes, they said.

“This bill is a disaster for working-class families,” said Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the committee’s top Republican. “It’s a big giveaway to the wealthy, it’s a laundry list of agenda items pulled right out of the Bernie Sanders socialist playbook.”

The unusual weekend session occurred as top Democrats amp up efforts to end increasingly bitter disputes between the party's centrist and progressive wings that threaten to undermine Biden's agenda.

Biden conceded Friday that talks among Democrats were at a “stalemate,” though Pelosi and Schumer have been more positive in an apparent effort to build momentum and soothe differences. A collapse of the measure at his own party's hands would be a wounding preview to the coming election year, in which House and Senate control are at stake.

To nail down moderates' support for an earlier budget blueprint, Pelosi promised to begin House consideration by Monday of another pillar of Biden's domestic plans: a $1 trillion collection of roadway and other infrastructure projects. Pelosi reaffirmed this week that the infrastructure debate would begin Monday.

But many moderates who consider the infrastructure bill their top goal also want to cut the $3.5 trillion social and environment package and trim or reshape some programs. They include Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

In response, progressives — their top priority is the $3.5 trillion measure — are threatening to vote against the infrastructure bill if it comes up for a vote first. Their opposition seems likely to be enough to scuttle it, and Pelosi hasn't definitively said when a vote on final passage of the infrastructure measure will occur.