The Napa County Planning Commission approved a new 50,000-gallon winery in the Mount Veeder American Viticultural Appellation on Wednesday, which again sparked debate before the commissioners over the winery’s proposed marketing plans.
Woolls Ranch Winery will be located on a 236-acre site on Mount Veeder Road, 1,000 feet north of the intersection with Redwood Road. The winery sought approval for up to 420 visitors by appointment for tours and tastings per week.
The property has about 32 acres of vineyard currently, and an additional 110 acres in Napa County to supply production, according to a Napa County staff report.
The marketing plan would make it the second busiest winery among the six other wineries in the surrounding area, trailing Hess Collection Winery’s 650 visitors per week.
Planning Commission Chairman Terry Scott noted that Woolls Ranch wanted roughly a third of Hess’ allotment, but Hess’ 1 million gallons of annual production would dwarf the new winery’s 50,000 gallons.
Attorney Brian Russell, working as a consultant on the project, responded that the marketing plan was in keeping with previous approvals the commissioners had granted for the newly minted Odette Estates on Silverado Trail and the new location for B Cellars in Oakville.
Given Woolls Ranch’s isolated location, far from the main tourist drags of Highway 29 and Silverado Trail, the marketing plan was needed to make the winery a sustainable business, Russell said.
“It is a fairly isolated site,” Russell said. “People aren’t going to just wander on to it.”
The commissioners favored reducing the total visitation to 350 people per week, and included that limit as part of their unanimous approval of the project.
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The project also brought forth concerns from a neighbor who worried the winery would continue to draw down groundwater supplies in the area, including her well.
Attorney Maureen Harrington said her client had to truck up water to her property four times this summer to supplant her well supplies, and Woolls Ranch was bringing in water trucks on a daily basis.
Harrington also voiced concerns about the 6,700-foot access road — more than a mile long — to the property, which includes an exception to county standards because a 400-foot stretch can’t be wider than 14 feet due to steep slopes. That road hadn’t been used for commercial purposes in the past, only for agricultural traffic.
Harrington asked for a delay in approving the project to allow for a new study on water availability in the area, but the commissioners denied that.
Russell said the Woolls Ranch owners had paid for a water availability assessment, and the property would only be using 10 percent of its allowed amount.
The property’s vineyard manager told the commissioners that the water trucks were used this year to avoid stressing the groundwater supplies, and to keep the water table as high as possible.
Russell said the county fire marshal and Public Works Department had signed off on the access road’s exception, and while there could be a dispute over the easement between the neighbor and Woolls Ranch, that wouldn’t be a matter for the Planning Commission.
Commissioner Bob Fiddaman said he was satisfied by the explanation, and believed the need for the neighbor to truck up water was due more to a dry rainfall year in Napa County than vineyard irrigation on Mount Veeder.
“My assumption is that the water issues in the area are related to it being a particularly dry year,” Fiddaman said. “It’s a great design. It’s a credit to the Napa Valley.”