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benjamin winery

Hearing over proposed, large Napa Valley winery could be delayed


The Napa County Board of Supervisors could delay deciding the Benjamin Ranch winery dispute until March.

A dispute over a planned, 475,000-gallon-a-year Benjamin Ranch winery with tours, tastings and marketing events in Napa Valley's Rutherford area may not be decided until next spring.

Rich and Leslie Frank of Frank Family Vineyards secured county Planning Commission approval in May to build Benjamin Ranch winery along Conn Creek Road near Highway 128. Vintner Michael Honig and Keep Rutherford Rural filed an appeal.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors was to decide the matter on Tuesday. But a county report said the parties have agreed to delay the hearing until March 8.

Attorney Scott Greenwood-Meinert made the case to the Planning Commission on May 19 why the winery of this size should be allowed. He said the valley needs more wine production capacity.

“Napa Valley needs more projects like this one, where large vineyard areas have a large vineyard management yard that can easily be converted to a serious production facility with minimal vineyard loss,” he said.

The appeal by Honig/Save Rural Rutherford said an environmental impact report is required to address the project’s possible impacts. It mentioned such areas as traffic, traffic safety, greenhouse gas, noise, water supply and flood hazards.

“The county has also relied on an incomplete and misleading comparison of the project to other wineries in Napa Valley, improperly downsizing the oversized nature of the project,” the appeal said.

The local group Napa Vision 2050 in a recent newsletter stated its opposition to the project, with its approval to have up to 87,150 guests annually.

“Do we want, in our rural valley, ‘Disneyland’ size and style tourist attractions?” the group asked.

Rich Frank responded to a similar comment during a September 2020 Planning Commission hearing. He is former president of Paramount Television Group and Disney Studios and is vice president of the American Film Institute board of directors. The Franks run Frank Family Vineyards winery on Larkmead Lane near Calistoga.

“We are not looking to pave paradise ... and we’re not looking to build Disneyland,” he said.

A county report responded to 21 grounds for appeal by Honig/Save Rural Rutherford. It recommended that the Board of Supervisors deny the appeal and uphold the Planning Commission decision.

Honig runs Honig Vineyard and Winery near the Benjamin Ranch.

Benjamin Ranch winery would be located on 87 acres along Conn Creek Road at Highway 128. The Planning Commission approved the project by a 3-2 vote on May 19.

“The growers in our community would not survive if it was not for facilities that could handle their production,” Commissioner Dave Whitmer said.

He and Commissioners Andrew Mazotti and Megan Dameron voted to approve Benjamin Ranch winery.

The requested 475,000 gallons in production is large in the middle of the agricultural preserve, Commissioner Joelle Gallagher said.

“I think bringing in fruit from all over to this particular spot is going to be a real pressure on the traffic in an area that is already really unmanageable,” she said.

Gallagher and Commissioner Anne Cottrell voted against the project as proposed. Cottrell called the 87 acres a prime location for a winery on the valley floor, but she too had traffic concerns.

The vineyards may have fared well after the powerful storms, but wine makers and growers are still concerned about the existing burn scars and how they may continue to impact the landscape.

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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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