A proposal to quadruple the minimum property size for new wineries looks like a long shot to win the endorsement of Napa County’s growth fix-it committee.
The 17-member Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee on Monday took straw votes. Eight members raised their hands in support of the existing minimum of 10 acres, which is about the size of downtown Napa’s Fuller Park.
One member supported the often-mentioned idea of a 40-acre minimum for new wineries. That’s about the size of the Justin-Siena High School campus.
Six members supported an in-between approach. The county might allow only a certain number of new wineries on properties from 10 acres to 40 acres. Or it might tighten conditions for these wineries.
“I think you are going to be shaping Napa for many decades to come,” Get a Grip on Growth co-founder Ginny Simms told the committee during public comments.
The Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee is trying to figure out whether Napa County is choking on its own wine country success and, if so, what to do about it. Residents have brought up issues ranging from too much traffic to a perception that winery tourism is trumping agriculture.
Among other things, the county Board of Supervisors charged the committee with looking at minimum parcel sizes. Monday’s meeting provided a chance for advisory committee members to put proposals on the table and see how their colleagues reacted.
Stan Boyd, owner of Boyd Family Vineyards and Holiday Inn Express in American Canyon, represents Visit Napa Valley on the committee. He proposed that the county stick with the 10-acre minimum.
“Most of the quality innovations, both viticulture and winemaking, have come from smaller operations,” Boyd said.
Peter McCrea owns Stony Hill Vineyard and represents Napa Valley Vintners, though he stressed his proposals were his own and not from the group. He suggested creating a “small winery parcel” category for properties from 10 acres to 40 acres.
New wineries in this category would have such restrictions as no entertainment or food events and a maximum of 10 visitors weekly. Seventy-five percent of the grapes used would have to be grown on the property.
“I don’t think any of those are particularly onerous,” McCrea said. “Since I run a 5,000-case winery, I tend to measure things by what it would do to our operation.”
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Lucio Perez, who represents the Napa County Farm Bureau, talked about the county’s agricultural land.
“That is irreplaceable,” Perez said. “There is no more being produced.”
New wineries on parcels between 10 acres and 40 acres in the Agricultural Preserve should get all of their grapes from their properties, he said. Only “extremely limited” visitation should be allowed.
At-large member Jeri Gill of Sustainable Napa County listened to the discussion and tried to sum it up. What seems to be most important is what happens on a new winery property, regardless of the parcel size. Rules must be clear, she said.
At-large member David Graves, co-founder of Saintsbury winery, said a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. He said that the county is different in the Carneros region where his winery is located from where it is in the heart of Napa Valley.
“I don’t think an approach that is not nuanced, that has no consideration of the differences of geography in the Napa region, will ultimately be fair or succeed,” Graves said.
Dan Mufson of Vision 2050 represents environmental groups. He said problems facing Napa County range from wineries becoming event centers to the county granting variances from rules for new wineries. Vision 2050 wants to maintain an agricultural landscape.
“That’s why we got formed,” Mufson said. “We felt things were out of control … I think the biggest issue is really enforcement of regulations.”
Committee members touched on such issues as how new rules might apply to winery expansions and even if some new rules might apply to existing wineries. But they didn’t go into details.
Planning, Building and Environmental Service Director David Morrison said it’s possible to apply new rules to existing uses, though such an attempt could result in lawsuits. Manhattan, for instance, could decide that no new structures higher than 10 feet will be allowed, but it wouldn’t tear down trillions of dollars in existing structures, he added.
The straw poll is only a starting point. To come up with a recommendation, the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee must pass a proposal by a two-thirds vote of members present at a meeting.
On May 26, the committee will further hone the various proposals and try to blend them into something that members can agree on. The committee must forward recommendations to the Planning Commission by Sept. 2, with the county Board of Supervisors to have the final word.