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A lineup of Napa wine country controversies is coming back for hearings
Wine Industry

A lineup of Napa wine country controversies is coming back for hearings

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Hard Six Cellars appeal

Hard Six Cellars winery is to be built on 53 acres on Diamond Mountain, southwest of Calistoga. The Napa County Planning Commission approved the winery and the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is to hear an appeal by opponents.

Several Napa County wine country growth controversies are getting second lives, starting with the recently approved Hard Six Cellars winery along Diamond Mountain Road near Calistoga.

The county Planning Commission heard these cases and rendered decisions. Opponents to the outcomes have filed appeals with the Board of Supervisors.

Hard Six Cellars is an example of a proposed winery that some rural neighbors say is too ambitious for a remote, mountainous location. The Board of Supervisors is to hear the appeal at 9:30 am. Tuesday at the county administration building, 1195 Third St. in Napa.

The Planning Commission approved the winery in October. Appellants Martin Checov and Timothy Bause in the appeal say the project “must now be sent back to the drawing board.”

Among other things, they claim Diamond Mountain Road – “a dilapidated mountain road that is frequently strewn with forest debris” – is unsuitable for the amount of car, bus and truck trips to be generated by the winery. They note that Diamond Mountain is considered by Cal Fire to be at high risk for wildfires.

A county report responds that the Planning Commission didn’t ignore Diamond Mountain conditions. Commissioners considered the opinions of licensed traffic professional and fire officials.

County staff recommends denial of the appeal, which would result in approval of the winery. The Board of Supervisors will make the call.

Meanwhile, other appeals loom. They include:

Bremer Family Winery – This is only the latest controversy involving the Bremer winery near Deer Park in the mountains northeast of St. Helena.

The county sued the winery in 2017 over numerous alleged code violations. A 2019 settlement among other things directed the Bremers to try to legalize footbridges and other structures along a stream – some built prior to their ownership – before the Planning Commission.

In October, the Planning Commission approved the structures within a stream setback by a 3-2 vote. Angwin resident Mike Hackett and Advocates for the Public Trust filed an appeal.

“They are using public trust space to sell wine,” Hackett told the Planning Commission in October. “Are we going to penalize them or are we going to reward them? I think it’s very important you set a precedent for future violators.”

A Planning Commission majority didn’t want the Bremers to have to remove the structures. However, Commissioner Joelle Gallagher expressed concerned that the Bremers’ request was entangled with the lawsuit settlement that didn’t contemplate Planning Commission denial.

Hackett in the appeal writes that the Board of Supervisors cannot hear the appeal due to a conflict of interest, given the county entered into the settlement agreement. He is asking the Board of Supervisors to recuse itself.

The appeal was to be discussed by the Board of Supervisors last Tuesday. The Board postponed the matter until March 17.

Mathew Bruno Tasting Room – This project approved by the Planning Commission in December involves turning an 1890s-era Victorian home in Rutherford into a tasting room.

“We knew this would be a great place for a family to enjoy our wines in a setting in Rutherford,” Anthony Bruno told the commission.

The home is at the entrance to Grape Lane, a narrow, private road serving several homes. The Grape Lane Association has traffic concerns, among them plans for tasting room parking stalls next to their access road.

Planning commissioners decided the applicants were doing enough to meet the neighborhood concerns. The Grape Lane Association disagreed.

Attorney Tom Carey wrote the appeal on behalf of the association. Among other things, he pointed to changes made by the Planning Commission at the meeting to try to address concerns.

“Because these revisions were made at the same hearing at which the project was approved, the neighbors not present at the hearing had no prior notice of these changes,” Carey wrote.

Mountain Peak Winery – This is another case raising questions of how big a winery should be allowed in the mountains along a narrow road.

The Board of Supervisors heard an appeal in May 2017 and approved this winery to be built at the end of Soda Canyon Road. But supervisors may have more work to do.

Opponents brought the case to Napa County Superior Court. The court last summer ruled the Board of Supervisors should reconsider the issue based on new information on safety in light of the October 2017 Atlas fire that burned much of Soda Canyon.

Project proponents have challenged this ruling in the state 1st District Court of Appeal.

Walt Ranch – This controversial project involves planting vineyards in the mountains between the city of Napa and Lake Berryessa.

The Board of Supervisors in 2016 approved the project, leading to a court challenge by opponents. An issue has arisen over greenhouse gas mitigation.

Walt Ranch intends to mitigate for the loss of 14,000 carbon-sequestering trees by preserving woodlands. The 1st District Court of Appeal in October questioned whether the woodlands to be preserved are in danger of being cut down.

How and when this issue will be resolved remains to be seen.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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