Flora Springs winery near St. Helena won Napa County permission to entertain more visitors, though the request reopened a periodic discussion among planners on how to set these visitor caps in general.
The county Planning Commission last week approved allowing the winery to increase maximum weekly tasting room visitation from 455 people to 700. It also increased the number of marketing events and granted various other changes.
Flora Springs winery was founded by the Komes family in 1978 at 1978 West Zinfandel Lane.
“This is a very well-known, well-operated and respected family in the Napa Valley,” Planning Commissioner Terry Scott said. “I want to see them continue to grow and represent the best of winery operations in the Napa Valley – which I believe they do.”
A neighbor expressed fear that more visitors will mean more traffic that will change this area’s rural character.
John Komes of the winery said one way the winery has tried to help neighbors is by letting them walk and bike on the property. He called the property the “Zinfandel Ag Park.”
“Any problem we might cause on the street itself is solved, I think, by our open gate policy,” Komes said.
Commissioners encouraged the Komes to keep working with the neighbors. They didn’t see any major transformation coming to West Zinfandel Lane with the increased visitation.
Commissioner Joelle Gallagher, only recently appointed to the commission, wanted more direction on how to decide what kind of visitation is reasonable for new wineries.
The commission’s recent practice has been to look at comparison charts showing visitation at similar-sized wineries for context. But this isn’t a formula that spits out a number for a proposed winery.
“I just have to say it would be great to have more guidance,” Gallagher said.
Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said there is no hard-and-fast ordinance, rule or even guideline on setting visitation caps. The comparison table is solely to provide context, he said.
“Excessive” visitation for any particular winery has to be defined by each commissioner, he said.
“We do have to look at each project on a case-by-case basis,” Morrison said. “Some wineries come in here and ask for no visitation. Some ask for a great deal, each according to their own business plan, their own site location, their own production needs … there isn’t any one-size-fits-all.”
Commissioner Anne Cottrell said doing case-by-case analysis is difficult. Wineries are seeking more visitors because of a direct-to-consumer sales model that has increased since the 2008 Napa County general plan and its environmental study were completed, she said.
“I am feeling the need for more policy direction because a case-by-case basis is sort of a policy in itself and I’m not sure we have clear direction from the Board of Supervisors on that,” she said.
Morrison said the Board of Supervisors has not directed staff to provide any visitation formula.
“I think the case-by-case basis is the policy of the Board,” Morrison said.
Commission Chairwoman Jeri Gill then steered the conversation back to Flora Springs winery. She said the commission might want to decide to continue the discussion on visitation caps in general at another time.