Aaron and Claire Pott have secured Napa County permission to build their Chateauneuf-du-Pott winery on the forested slopes of Mount Veeder despite a scattering of opposition.
The Planning Commission last week approved the 20,000-gallon-a-year winery. The planned 4,638-square-foot building at 2072 Mount Veeder Road will replace a house and barn that burned in the 2017 Nuns fire.
“I want to support small, family-owned wineries,” Commissioner Megan Dameron said. “In this case, the Pott family lives on Mount Veeder. They have vines and farm on Mount Veeder. And now they wish to have their small family winery on Mount Veeder.”
The Potts talked about their winery plans.
“We are one-trick ponies, I have to say,” Aaron Pott told the commission. “I’ve been making wine all my life.”
His resume includes working at Chateau Troplong Mondot and Chateau La Tour Figeac in France. He and Claire spent years looking in Napa County for an area where they wanted to grow grapes and chose Mount Veeder.
“Our project is very simple … we’re looking to create a working winery where we can make our wine … we use a lot of very old techniques to make wine and we don’t use a lot of machinery to do that, so it’s a very quiet, very simple process,” Aaron Pott said.
They have grown their business very slowly, taking their time, since moving to Mount Veeder in 2004, Claire Pott said.
“We don’t have investors, it’s just us, for better or for worse,” she said.
Mount Veeder resident Daniel McLoughlin has lived across the street from the proposed winery since 2000. He expressed concerns about groundwater and traffic.
“Just the wrong place at the wrong time,” he told commissioners.
Water Audit California, meanwhile, urged the county to deny the application. Grant Reynolds of the group wrote that Pickle Canyon Creek runs through the property and that the upper reaches of the creek are viable and critical steelhead fish habitat.
This project should be subject to separate review to ensure it wouldn’t injure the “public trust” associated with Pickle Canyon Creek. Also, more study is needed to show whether the project would diminish flows in Redwood Creek located downstream, he wrote.
Water Audit California announced earlier this year it is suing Napa County. It wants the county to increase oversight over how groundwater use for wineries and vineyards affects the Napa River.
Others wrote supporting the Potts.
“I am terrified by the rate at which private equity firms and large corporations are taking control of the Napa Valley,” wrote Cathy Corison of Corison winery. “The Pott project is exactly what we should all be backing if we want to remain important in the worldwide fine wine business.”
Consultant George Monteverdi on behalf of the Potts said the winery will focus on production, with a small area for tastings.
“This isn’t an events center,” Monteverdi said. “This isn’t something (where) the Potts are trying to have some sort of remote, exclusive getaway where you bring you family and friends and business associates and throw a party. It’s not.”
Chateauneuf-du-Pott winery is to have up to 3,370 visitors annually, a county report said. Almost all would be by-appointment tasting room visitors, with 90 marketing events visitors annually.
Napa County staff didn’t rubber-stamp a recommendation for approval, Monteverdi said. Staff looked at groundwater impacts, environmental impacts, traffic and other issues, he said.
The project needed a variance, or an exception to county rules. In this case, the winery will be 66 feet from the Mount Veeder Road centerline, rather than the required 300 feet.
“We all know variances become a bit of a hot-button topic in virtually every application where it is proposed,” Monteverdi said.
The area where the home and barn were located before the Nuns fire makes sense for a building site on a property with slopes, he said.
The Planning Commission approved the project 3-0. Commissioners Dameron, Dave Whitmer and Andrew Mazotti voted “yes,” with Commissioners Anne Cottrell and Joelle Gallagher absent.
“You are the type of folks we ought to be lifting up in this community,” Whitmer told the Potts. “You are a small family wishing to do something miraculous here. It is out of touch and out of reach for many.”
Some people question how the Planning Commission can approve a winery during a drought and in an area that has burned in wildfires, Mazotti said.
“You can find a million reasons to say ‘no’ to things and poke holes,” he said. “But I’m always trying and we as a county and a commission are trying to find a way to say ‘yes’ and help people live out their dream.”
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