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County sues Palmaz
Cathy Roche, attorney for Palmaz Vineyards, opens the gate of the vineyard property near Mt. George. Napa County is suing the vineyard, claiming Palmaz did not secure the proper permits before altering the natural landscape. Lianne Milton/Register

After months of controversy, Napa County has sued a winery at the foot of Mt. George, claiming Palmaz Vineyards violated state and local environmental regulations.

For months, the county squared off against Amalia and Julio Palmaz over the spoils from the company’s cave digging at the foot of Mt. George. County officials charge those spoils buried part of a seasonal tributary of Hagen Creek, and that the vineyard violated stream setback rules, carrying on their operations without the proper erosion control permits.

The county filed a civil lawsuit Wednesday against Palmaz officials and their properties, including Cedar Knoll Vineyard.

Amalia Palmaz said she could not comment on pending litigation.

The company spent $750,000 on environmental studies and permits to try to get into compliance with environmental laws, but that took place after the alleged violations occurred.

Napa County Counsel Robert Westmeyer said his office has been working on the issue for months.

“It was sometime late last year that my office became involved,” he said. “It’s a pretty complicated issue.”

Palmaz Vineyards is known in part because of its enormous, 100,000-square-foot underground winery, dug into an east Napa hillside.

The spoils from digging such a wine world wonder have now become an issue for the courts, especially the spoils deposited on what became known as the 1200 Vineyard and the 1400 Vineyard, where, the county charges, work was done without any consideration beforehand about grading and erosion control permits.

The county charges the Palmazes also built bridges over Hagen Creek, diverting the natural flow of the waterway. The county claims the Palmazes did not stop their activities until early 2006, after they had cleared a 10- to 30-foot swath of vegetation along the creek bed and bank, in violation of California Department of Fish and Game rules.

According to court records, the two sides are scheduled for a court hearing in early October.

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