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wine industry

Deadlocked commission denies approval for Girard winery

Proposed Girard Winery

A rendering submitted to the county Planning Commission of the proposed Girard Winery south of Calistoga.

Girard winery’s plans for a new winemaking facility near Calistoga ran into 2-2 tie vote Wednesday by the Napa County Planning Commission, which equaled denial.

Patrick Roney of applicant Vintage Wine Estates said as he left the commission chamber that he would appeal the denial to the Board of Supervisors.

Girard winery wants to build on 27 acres at 1077 Dunaweal Lane. The winery is requesting up to 200,000 gallons of wine annually and have up to 550 visitors a week, not counting marketing events.

The 32,771-square-foot building would be up to 34 feet tall with two cupolas reaching 45 feet into the air.

Commissioners Anne Cottrell and Heather Phillips had concerns about a wastewater system on the Girard property that is already used by Clos Pegase winery across the street. Vintage Wine Estates bought Clos Pegase in 2013 and proposed to use the same system for both Clos Pegase and Girard.

“I just don’t see the General Plan or zoning ordinance contemplated this type of ‘doubling up,’” Cottrell said.

She expressed concern that the General Plan environmental impact report didn’t look at the impacts of this type of combination. She expressed concern about what would happen if one of the properties sold and the intensity of use by having a shared wastewater system on a 27-acre parcel.

Commissioners Michael Basayne and Terry Scott voted in favor of the project.

“This is a well-designed facility in and of itself, certainly in regards to context and landscaping, as well as architectural design,” Basayne said.

Both he and Scott liked the idea that approving the Girard winery would allow Girard to make wine from Napa Valley grapes in Napa Valley. Girard presently exports grapes to a facility in Sonoma County to make wine.

New Commissioner Jeri Gill recused herself from the Girard decision, saying she didn’t have time to review the lengthy administrative record that goes back to 2014.

Instead, Gill chose to participate in the commission hearing on the Syar quarry expansion later in the day Wednesday — an issue with an even longer record of studies and hearings .

Norma Tofanelli, who farms on Dunaweal Lane, said the Girard and Clos Pegase sites used to be 40 acres of prime, productive farmland. A Girard winery combined with the existing Clos Pegase winery would mean the land would have two large hospitality and wine production facilities, parking lots and only “decorative vineyards,” she said.

“Is this how we protect ag land?” she asked commissioners.

County planners said Girard would have 15 acres of actual vineyards and another three acres of vineyard access roads and an irrigation pond.

Tofanelli talked about a long history of weddings, concerts and other “illegal” events at Clos Pegase. These began under the former owner and, Tofanelli said, have continued.

“Clos Pegase and Girard are two faces of the same coin,” she said, noting the common ownership.

Roney said Vintage Wine Estates believes it has preexisting rights to hold certain types of events at Clos Pegase that the county now forbids. Clos Pegase held these type of events before the county passed its 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance. It is working with the county to clarify the issue, he said.

Tofanelli called for a three-year “timeout” before Vintage Wine Estates can apply for the Girard winery. During this time, Clos Pegase would have to operate under its use permit conditions without violations, she said.

The Tofanelli family submitted reports by hydrologist Tom Myers. Myers said well water use by Girard could unacceptably lower groundwater levels, decrease flow in the nearby Napa River and cause arsenic and boron to be drawn to the project site.

Myers said in an Aug. 15 letter that county responses to his analysis “showed a lack of understanding of the cumulative and overlapping effects of this project with all other wells in the area.”

Tofanelli talked to commissioners about groundwater and wells.

“This area is fractured and fissured by volcanic activity,” she said. “I don’t think anyone can know where the water comes from or goes.”

Napa County has stuck by its position. A county report said that groundwater monitoring in the area shows water levels are stable even amid the drought. It cited a study by O’Connor Environmental Inc. that found Girard winery could use 8.2 acre-feet a year and the annual recharge is about 34.6 acre-feet a year. One acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.

These are all issues that will be handled by the Board of Supervisors, if Roney follows through with his intention to appeal the Planning Commission decision.

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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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