Wondering what all the heavy equipment is in the middle of Highway 29 at the Napa city line lately?
Workers in the median of Highway 29 just north of Napa are installing a left-turn lane and other improvements associated with the planned Ashes & Diamonds winery. They should be at work possibly into August, officials said.
The project hasn’t stopped traffic, but has slowed it somewhat. Drivers have a narrower space to deal with because of concrete barriers along the median that protect the construction crew.
When the project is finished, southbound Highway 29 drivers will have a left-turn lane onto Howard Lane. They’ll be able to use it to reach not only the winery-to-be, but the existing Bistro Don Giovanni restaurant and Senza Hotel.
Other changes will include an expanded northbound Highway 29 deceleration lane. Vintner Darioush Khaledi, who applied for the Ashes & Diamonds Winery permit, said the Highway 29 project will cost the winery more than $1 million.
He expects drivers to notice the difference.
“It’s much safer,” he said.
Vince Jacala, a spokesman with the state Department of Transportation, said that this is not a state-run project. The project permit allows closing one of the two northbound Highway 29 lanes near Howard Lane at night at some point, he said.
Ashes & Diamonds Winery could open next year, Khaledi said. It has changed ownership since Khaledi applied for the permit and is now run by Khaledi's son, Kashy Khaledi, independent of Khadeli's existing Darioush Winery.
In 1988, Napa County approved a small winery for the site and in 2000 approved annual production of up to 100,000 gallons and daily visitation of up to 25 people. But it didn’t require the left-turn lane, instead advising that winery truck traffic turn only right onto the highway and right off of the highway.
Darioush Khaledi Winery bought the 30-acre site in 2009. In 2011, the proposed Ashes & Diamonds Winery at 4120 Howard Lane went before the county Planning Commission under the name Carevan Serai Winery.
The county revisited the traffic issue for a winery requesting maximum visitation of 400 people a day. A county report from the time said that the winery appeared to have an aggressive marketing plan.
“However, (the winery’s) location on Highway 29 is quite prominent and there is an argument to be made that if any winery location within the agricultural preserve warranted such relatively high visitor numbers, this may be it,” the report said.
Given the nearby restaurant and hotel, the county recognized from the outset that the new winery would necessitate substantial traffic improvements at the Highway 29/Howard Lane intersection, the report said.
But county staff “is confident” the proposed Highway 29 changes will substantially improve safety and traffic flow conditions along Highway 29 and Howard Lane near the proposed winery, the 2011 report said. The area from 2004 through 2009 had 11 accidents, none of them fatal.
The winery site touches the northern boundary of the city of Napa. City limits are to the east, south and west. In 2011, the county approved a 16,500-square-foot wine production building and a 7,500-square-foot, single-story winery hospitality building.