In the ongoing debate over the appropriate pace, size and visitation for new or expanding wineries in Napa Valley, Wednesday’s meeting before the Napa County Planning Commission featured a new wrinkle — Ted Hall, owner of Long Meadow Ranch, squaring off with Mike Grgich, a luminary in the wine industry.
Hall was seeking approval to construct a new 100,000-gallon winery on his estate off Highway 29 and just north of Highway 128/Rutherford Road, but Grgich, who owns Grgich Hills Estate directly across the highway, opposed his project.
The Planning Commission voted 5-0 to approve the winery, despite Grgich’s objections, although Commissioner Mike Basayne said he still recognized vintner's stature in the Napa Valley, and appreciated his contributions.
“Mr. Grgich is a cultural icon,” Basayne said. “That is not lost on us today. This project is exemplary.”
The winery will be located on a 30-acre parcel, with an 11,000-square-foot production facility, 8,000 square feet of covered tank and crush pads, and a 1,300 square foot administration building. Hall said he will grow all of the grapes for his winery, which will have a maximum visitation of 50 people per day.
Grgich’s attorney, Adam Hoffman, argued to the commissioners that Hall shouldn’t pursue an entrance to the new winery off of Highway 29, and instead should look at having access from an existing lane off of Mee Lane.
But Rob Anglin, an attorney for Hall, said that doing so would require expansions and improvements that would require Hall to take out vineyard plantings, and possibly build a bridge over Bale Slough, which runs to the rear of Hall’s property.
Hall said he can’t do this because he and his family put acreage into a conservation easement, forever barring it from that kind of development.
“We did this willfully,” Hall said. “That will be vineyard or some kind of agriculture forever. It will never be somebody’s commercial entrance driveway, removing vineyard or not.”
Hoffman also suggested that Hall could exceed his visitation capacity without proper monitoring, although Anglin countered that Hall’s winery will follow the same rules as every other winery in Napa County — keeping a log book documenting visitation, and being subjected to the random audit of 20 wineries the county Planning Department does every year. That includes Grgich Hills, Anglin said.
Hall called the Hoffman’s suggestion “deeply offensive.”
The winery also required a variance to the county’s rule that wineries should be set back 600 feet from Highway 29; it will be 160 feet from the highway.
That’s because Hall wanted to avoid the active floodway that Bale Slough represents after heavy rainfall, and to avoid removing productive grapevines from his property. The project as proposed would take out less than an acre of Hall’s least productive vines, he said.
Hoffman said the Planning Commission was looking at the proposal through the lens that the Halls have a right to build something new and big on the property, and therefore the impacts to neighbors would be judged on that basis. He said that’s an incorrect view, and the proper way to judge the project is to ask whether it should happen at all.
“Something new and big is going to go in here,” Hoffman said. “Can or should that happen? Grgich Hills would suggest it shouldn’t.”
Gary Margadant, president of the Mount Veeder Stewardship Council, said the commissioners continue to get criticized for variance requests from wineries, which some critics have equated to wineries willfully flouting the rules with commissioner approval.
The commissioners and developers take the opposite view — that the Napa Valley has seen so many vineyards planted and wineries built that the good locations have long been snapped up, leading to a situation where Hall would be forced to build in the flood plain if he didn’t have his variance request approved. Commissioner Terry Scott said rejecting the variance request makes no sense.
“It almost becomes an adventure in common sense,” Scott said. “You build whatever is going to be built there as far away from that flood zone as possible.”
Commissioner Heather Phillips started Wednesday’s meeting by asking Planning Director David Morrison to produce a work plan by the commission’s next meeting on wineries’ permitted gallons of production, visitation, traffic impacts, water and waste water systems, and other topics such as how the county interprets the rules for winery development.
That followed a request from Supervisor Diane Dillon on Tuesday to hold a public hearing on winery development at a Board of Supervisors meeting in August.
Morrison said he and his staff are working on that analysis, and he said the ultimate product will be “sober, serious and fact-based.”
“This is serious business, and we need to take it very seriously,” Morrison said. “Public policy is not an overnight issue. It is not resolved overnight. It’s prolonged. It’s messy. It’s debating. The need to start a process is an urgent one, but action may take some time.”