A remote winery on a dead-end road wanting more visitors can sometimes be a tough sell to the Napa County Planning Commission, but not in the case of Fontanella Family Winery.
The winery is located on the southern edge of the Mayacamas Mountains on Partrick Road three miles north of the city of Napa. Reaching it entails a drive into the back country up some steep grades that physically fit bicyclists like to challenge.
“To me, that is really what Napa Valley is about,” Planning Commission chairperson Joelle Gallagher said at Wednesday’s meeting. “That is a real family farm and winery operation.”
Jeffrey and Karen Fontanella successfully asked to increase both daily tasting visitors and marketing event visitors. Add it all up and potential annual visitation rises from 890 guests to 5,915 guests.
At the heart of the winery’s request was to have 50 events annually with eight people, in addition to a few larger events. Karen Fontanella sees a trend where people want to visit wineries in small groups so they can have a shared experience.
“Especially at a place like ours where it’s intimate, the owners are there, the winemaker is the owner, he’s out crushing grapes, and I’m there and the dog is running around and all sorts of good stuff,” she said.
Gallagher said having a number of small events with up to eight people is the way to go, as opposed to multiple, large events.
“It’s just a much gentler footprint on the environment and the neighborhood,” she said.
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Commissioner Anne Cottrell agreed. Small events seem to work for wineries and have a lower impact on roads and traffic. She liked that the Fontanellas promote having guests arrive by vans and carpools.
No one spoke out against the Fontanella’s proposals, as has been the case in several recent cases involving other remote wineries. Instead, several neighbors wrote letters of support.
“I always like the idea that neighbors can talk to neighbors and get along well,” Commissioner Dave Whitmer said.
The Fontanellas also won permission to build a 2,900-square-foot winery office building. The existing, 1,500-square-foot office building – a converted barn – will be demolished.
Fontanella Family Winery is located on 26 acres at 1721 Partrick Road. The Planning Commission issued the use permit in 2006.
Whitmer said Fontanella Family Winery is clearly a small family winery that is trying to improve a successful business with a thoughtful, reasonable modification.
“This is exactly what we have always envisioned as being kind of the center of Napa Valley agriculture and the wine industry here,” Whitmer said.