Caldwell Vineyard in the Coombsville area plans to take its controversial visitation expansion proposal to the Napa County Board of Supervisors after the Planning Commission rejected it.
The Planning Commission had postponed the Caldwell hearing in January and again in March so the winery could work with its rural neighbors. On Wednesday, commissioners discussed a continuance until Nov. 7 to give the winery still more time to address concerns.
“I think we’d just prefer a vote,” attorney Thomas Adams said on behalf of the winery, even though that vote looked certain to be a denial.
The Planning Commission obliged by voting down the expansion proposal by a 4-0 margin. Adams after the meeting said Caldwell Vineyard will appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors.
“Absolutely,” Adams said. “We’ve got to move forward. We’ve been in a spin cycle here.”
The Caldwell case provides another example of what in recent years has been a recipe for controversy—proposed growth on a dead-end rural road with homes. Commissioners had hoped for a compromise that all parties could accept.
“I think there are still opportunities for the neighborhood and applicant to come together,” Commissioner Jeri Hansen said before Adams asked for a vote.
Caldwell Vineyard’s latest proposal would increase annual visitation from 2,340 guests to 13,580 guests, counting both tastings and marketing events. That compares to a previous proposal of 22,880 guests.
The winery located at 270 Kreuzer Lane also asked to increase annual wine production from 25,000 gallons to 35,000 gallons. Planning Commissioners voiced no objections to that request.
Winery owner John Caldwell told commissioners how he bought the land on Kreuzer Lane in 1974 and in 1981 starting planting a vineyard there. Farming became an obsession.
“It’s been a love now for 44 years,” Caldwell said. “Part of this love is it’s got to be sustainable economically.”
The business has grown to include tastings and a wine club. The wine club is what keeps the operation growing at about 5 percent a year, he said.
Caldwell Vineyard has about 60 acres of vineyard. It sells 44 percent of its grapes and wants in time to use all the grapes at the winery, he said.
“I’m asking with the application to allow us to sustain our business based on the size of our vineyard,” Caldwell said.
Neighbors have formed the Kreuzer Lane Protection Committee. Several members said they don’t feel that Caldwell Vineyard has worked with them to find solutions to their concerns about such things as winery-generated traffic on their narrow country road.
“The changes in the winery’s latest proposals are minimal, in our neighborhood opinion,” said Joseph Sabella, who has lived on Kreuzer Lane for 28 years.
Attorney Denis Shanagher, who represents the Kreuzer Lane neighbors, wasn’t impressed by the lower visitation proposals, writing that the winery originally sought “an absurd 14 times” the present visitation.
Neighbor Peter Menzel said Caldwell Vineyard has a “marketing, entertainment and nightclub business model.” The proposed 500-percent visitation increase is out of line for the agricultural watershed and a wildfire-prone area, he said.
Adams said the winery has worked with the county to improve intersection safety at Fourth Avenue and Kreuzer Lane in response to neighborhood concerns. The winery has a community liaison to work with neighbors and will hold an annual neighborhood meeting, he said.
The Caldwell request complies with county rules, he said.
“Agriculture, despite what a lot of people think, includes wineries and it includes marketing,” Adams said. “It’s in the definition of agriculture in the general plan and the code. I know that some people don’t want to hear that.”
Neither the neighborhood group nor the Planning Commission reached consensus and suggested what the number of visitors should be, he said.
Adams suggested during the meeting that the winery have seasonal variations in daily visitation, which would lower the overall visitation growth request. Commissioners weren’t ready to accept the offer on the spot without staff analysis.
“I’m not interested in horse-trading numbers here at the hearing,” Commission Dave Whitmer said.