With no new land for vineyard development on the floor of the Napa Valley, growers are looking up — specifically to the east side of the valley.
Five new vineyard development projects totaling more than 1,000 acres, set on land between Lake Hennessey and Soscol Ridge, are on the drawing board before the Napa County Planning Commission.
One new vineyard already has been given the green light and four others are in various stages of the public comment process.
The one poised to break ground first is Stagecoach Vineyards, 107 acres of vines in the Rector Canyon watershed between Rector Canyon and Sage Canyon. The property is off Soda Canyon Road.
Dr. Jan Krupp, owner of the Stagecoach project, said about half the acreage will be planted to cabernet sauvignon, along with smaller parcels of petit verdot, malbec, cabernet franc, chardonnay, grenache and syrah.
The plan is to break ground on the vineyard development in early April.
Why this site? “There is great sun exposure and it’s above the fog,” said Krupp. “The property is also sheltered from the heat waves that can scorch the valley floor in the summer.”
Krupp said he expects to grow grapes for fragrant wines that taste good when they are young. “The soils are thin and will stress the vines to produce great wines,” he said.
The Stagecoach environmental report prompted some criticism.
The state Department of Fish and Game wrote a letter warning that the vineyard would “further encroach into wildlife corridors and further impair wildlife movement” in the area. A letter from the California Native Plant Society voiced concern that the development would hurt the prospects for many types of native vegetation and that “genetic flow of many plant species may be interrupted.”
Nonetheless, the county found the property owners had properly mitigated the impacts and approved the Environment Impact Report in August 2008.
The so-called Circle S Ranch project would plant 337 acres of cabernet sauvignon on land that has been a working cattle ranch for more than 100 years. The site is off Atlas Peak Road in Foss Valley.
A draft environmental report for the Circle S Ranch project is being circulated and the comment period ended in early January, according to Tom Adams, consultant to Circle S developers Premier Pacific Vineyards.
Adams said he hopes vineyard development could begin this summer. “But it might be next year. It all depends on a number of things.
“We plan to do a lot of work that will restore Milliken Creek … we’ll be taking the cattle off the property … that should have a major positive impact on water quality and improving the riparian habitat on the creek. We will be establishing a 550-acre oak woodland preserve to guarantee (the oak trees’) longevity,” Adams said.
He also said improvements will be made to the existing roads, which will result in “better water quality, because we are taking care of sediment issues that have been addressed in the (environmental review).”
The improved roads will also provide better access for firefighters should they ever have to fight a wildland fire in the area.
In response to the environmental report, the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council and the Napa County Bike Coalition asked if there will be access for a public-use trail through the property.
The Sierra Club expressed concern that 289 acres of native oak trees would be destroyed for the project.
And the Napa Solano Audubon Society said Circle S Ranch provides nesting and foraging habitat for the white-tailed kite. As recently as the 1970s, prior to the conversion of many slopes on the edge of the valley to vineyards, this species nested in Foss Valley.
State Department of Fish and Game wrote it was “concerned that the project could result in impacts to in-stream resources by the diversion of water from sensitive riparian areas.” In particular, the agency is concerned that there would be impact to the rainbow trout, foothill yellow-legged frog and other aquatic species.
Adams said Premier Pacific is taking steps to address the issues.
“We have put a lot of time and energy to come up with a project that balances environmental concerns with our economic interest in the property. We think we have a balance that is good for everyone,” Adams said. “The key is to preserve the open space that people love in the Napa Valley.”
Silverado Premium Properties, based in Napa, has purchased about 2,200 acres, including a portion of Kirkland Ranch near Jamieson Canyon Road and slopes north toward the Syar quarry near Napa.
Beth Painter of Balanced Planning, a consultant on the vineyard development, said she does not want to venture a guess at how many acres will be developed for new vineyards. Many acres of vines already are planted on the property.
“Right now everything is in the planning stages. Nothing has been firmed up … (we) are still doing a lot of site analysis,” Painter said. “The engineering people are looking at it for erosion control. Nothing has been prepared.”
If Painter had a crystal ball, she said, she is hoping the environmental review process could be done by late spring or early summer “if all goes well with the county.”
Silverado Premium Properties has vineyard properties in Napa, Sonoma and Monterey counties and elsewhere in the state.
Rodgers Land & Development of Pleasant Hill is looking to plant about 160 acres on the southwest side of Lake Hennessey, near Silverado Trail and Sage Canyon Road.
Currently, cattle graze on the land in the spring and summer.
Napa County officials have determined that the loss of 121 acres of oak woodland would have no significant adverse biological impacts and that “mitigation may include restoration and or replacement or protection of comparable oak woodlands from development at a 2:1 ratio.”
Draft and supplemental environmental impact reports have been completed and the project is now in the comment phase.
“We are now starting to look at the comments,” said Mary Doyle, the county’s project planner on the development.
Craig and Kathryn Hall of Hall Winery in St. Helena are looking to develop 397 acres at the Walt Ranch, between the Circle S Ranch off Atlas Peak Road and Monticello Road in Capell Valley. The property is within the Capell Creek and Milliken Creek watersheds.