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Napa County planners are looking for a flexible method to help them decide how many visitors and marketing events they should allow at new wineries.

The Planning Commission decides what daily, weekly and annual visitor caps should be for proposed wineries. It is supposed to balance the need for wineries to sell directly to consumers with county policy of making marketing subordinate to agriculture.

County guidelines say key factors to consider are remoteness and location of the proposed winery and the amount of wine to be produced. But that isn’t enough for the Planning Commission.

“That’s fairly open to interpretation of how it gets worked out in the real world,” said David Morrison, director of Planning, Building and Environmental Services, at Wednesday’s commission meeting.

The Planning Commission wants a method that will help it arrive at visitation numbers while taking into account the diversity of Napa County’s landscape, soils and potential winery sites.

One size doesn’t fit all, Commissioner Heather Phillips said.

Morrison tried to establish some perspective. He said 80 percent of Napa County’s wineries have on average fewer than 300 visitors a week, and 60 percent have on average fewer than 100 visitors a week.

“I would disagree with the perception the county is being faced with a tsunami of projects that have high visitation,” Morrison said.

As a first step, the commission is looking at establishing a visitor baseline. For example, the recent Napa County travel study found that wineries allow 199 to 349 visitors annually for each 1,000 gallons of wine produced. The commission could use the mid-range of 275 visitors annually per 1,000 gallons.

Or it could use another method to arrive at a baseline. Commissioners debated how to take into consideration the wineries built before any visitation caps were imposed and how their high visitation numbers might skew the baseline.

Then the commission could adjust the baseline up or down based on variables specific to a winery proposal. It could consider traffic near the winery, whether the winery would be certified Napa Green for its environmental practices and whether vineyards would be torn out to make room for the winery.

Commissioners talked briefly of looking at the balance of production employees versus marketing employees, given that a winery’s primary purpose is supposed to be producing wine. But they decided this approach would be too difficult to measure and enforce.

The Planning Commission is to continue the discussion on April 15.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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