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Gandona Winery

A morning harvest is captured on the slopes of Pritchard Hill overlooking Lake Hennessey. This is one of the sites sourced for Gandona Estates wines.

Gandona Estate winery in the mountains near Lake Hennessey won county rules exceptions so it can build a small expansion while avoiding an ancient landslide.

The winery at 1533 Sage Canyon Road asked to build a two-story office and storage structure near its winery building. The lone suitable spot on the Pritchard Hill property with stable soils is within the setback for an access road and on a slope exceeding 30 percent, a county report said.

Napa County in 2008 approved the rule exceptions that allowed the construction of the winery building. But since then, critics have claimed the county hands out these exceptions too readily.

On Oct. 3, the Planning Commission by a 3-1 vote granted the exceptions needed for the office/storage building to be constructed, along with a visitation increase.

“We’re beat up an awful lot for making exceptions and variances, but in this particular case, it seems to me that it’s kind of a natural extension of what’s already been entitled,” Commissioner Dave Whitmer said.

Commissioners Jeri Hansen and Terry Scott also voted in favor of the Gandona requests.

“Thank you for providing us a good example of what an exception should be,” Scott said.

Commissioner Anne Cottrell cast the dissenting vote.

A variance under state and county law must meet certain criteria, such as that without it the owner would suffer hardship resulting from special circumstances on the property not shared by nearby properties. Cottrell said Gandona failed to meet all the criteria.

“I am concerned we undermine our own regulations when we allow too many exceptions,” Cottrell said.

The commission also allowed Gandona to increase annual visitation from 1,061 guests to 4,444 guests, a total combining tastings and marketing events.

“This winery is exactly what the general plan and winery definition ordinance envisioned – 19 acres of vineyards, all the grapes are processed at the winery onsite,” attorney Priscillia de Muizon said on behalf of Gandona.

The winery has a low-profile design. There’s no landscaping other than the natural trees and features, she said.

An undersized laboratory in the winery building drove the expansion request. The laboratory will move into office space and the office space will be relocated to the new building, the Gandona application said.

Gandona will continue to have an annual wine production cap of 20,000 gallons.

Gandona Estate is on land ranging from about 800 feet to 1,500 feet in elevation, with views from its vineyards of Lake Hennessey far below. The vintner is Manuel Pires, who bought the property in 2006. The winery is named after the nickname of Pires' grandfather in Portugal.

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Napa County Reporter

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