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Napa County approves remote, controversial Mountain Peak winery
Wine Industry

Napa County approves remote, controversial Mountain Peak winery

Mountain Peak Winery

An image of the planned Mountain Peak Winery on Soda Canyon Road. Much of the winery is to be located in caves.

Napa County supervisors favor allowing Mountain Peak winery to be built near the end of Soda Canyon Road, despite opposition claims that a winery this big is a bad fit for a remote location.

Several supervisors shared the opponents’ concerns about adding traffic to a narrow, dead-end road. But consultant Donna Oldford came to Tuesday’s meeting with an offer on behalf of Mountain Peak winery that helped turn the tide.

Mountain Peak committed to making 75 percent of its wine from grapes grown on the 41-acre winery property and a nearby 180-acre vineyard. Supervisors said they thought this a good approach for a remote winery.

“It honors that the grapes are going to come from exactly where they’re going to be crushed, where the wine is going to be produced,” Board Chairwoman Belia Ramos said. “I value that very much.”

So did Supervisor Ryan Gregory.

“It’s what we need to be all about …. For me, that’s earned my support today,” he said.

But Oldford failed to sway the many opponents, given the reaction to a statement by Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza.

“I do have confidence this project will not come at the expense of our quality of life. I truly believe that,” Pedroza said, drawing scattered laughs from the audience.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to tentatively uphold the Planning Commission’s approval of Mountain Peak winery, with Supervisor Diane Dillon absent. It will take a final vote on Aug. 15, after the Mountain Peak onsite grape condition is crafted into use permit language.

Kosta Arger, Cynthia Grupp, William Hocker and Glenn Schreuder had appealed the Planning Commission approval decision and more than 1,000 people signed a petition opposing the project.

Mountain Peak winery is to be located at 3265 Soda Canyon Road, about six miles from Silverado Trail. It is to produce 100,000 gallons of wine annually, have up to 14,300 tasting room visitors annually and have up to 275 visitors annually at three marketing events.

Anthony Arger said on behalf of the appellants that Mountain Peak winery is too big with too many visitors for a remote location. He called it a “leviathan commercial winery event center” that would “fit in on the Las Vegas Strip,” rather than a small family winery suitable for the site.

Mountain Peak winery would add 40,000 annual trips to Soda Canyon Road, resulting in more accidents and increasing the fire risk, he said.

Oldford later responded to him.

“This is not an events center,” Oldford said. “If we wanted it to be an events center, we failed miserably. The world ‘leviathan’ has more syllables in it than we have events a year.”

Schreuder said Soda Canyon Road was built before the 1950s and was last paved in the 1980s. It has blind turns, a one-lane bridge, deteriorating asphalt, a hairpin turn where trucks have gone off the pavement, a steep grade, areas that flood and no guard rails.

“It’s basically a failed roadway at the end of its usual life,” Schreuder said while showing photographs of potholes and cracked pavement.

Supervisors didn’t disagree that Soda Canyon Road needs improvements. Gregory said it is holding up relatively well, noting that Mount Veeder Road and other roads damaged by the winter storms are in worse condition.

“In the greater context of Napa County, Soda Canyon is in relatively good shape,” Gregory said.

Deputy Public Works Director Juan Arias said the county this fall will make a five-year spending plan for the Measure T road repair tax that takes effect in 2018. Pavement repairs to Soda Canyon Road could be on the list, he said.

Appellants said the proposed winery and caves would sap groundwater, hurt such species as the foothill yellow-legged frog and send eroded sediment into waterways leading to Rector Reservoir, the water source for Yountville. They said the county must do an environmental impact report for the project.

“We are fighting for the environmental soul of Soda Canyon,” Yeoryios Apallas said on behalf the appellants.

One opponent during public comments got down on her knees and begged supervisors not to approve Mountain Peak winery.

Oldford said the vineyards are organic. The winery will be meet top green building standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Then she proposed the voluntary condition of approval that 75 percent of the grapes for Mountain Peak wine be estate grown near the site.

“This is a winery on a very large parcel of land,” Oldford said. “And it’s a winery in proximity to the grapes that it’s using to make almost all its wine .... we will be saving conservatively at least 88 trips for grape trucks that now must take grapes down that hill to be processed elsewhere.”

The project has done what it can to maintain the area’s rural character, including putting the wine-making underground instead of constructing a big-box building, project general manager Steven Rea said.

Supervisors began the day by deciding whether to go ahead with the hearing. Arger on behalf of the appellants asked for a continuance after noting that Supervisor Diane Dillon was absent. Dillon traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify before a Congressional committee on Native American affairs.

“Appellants are entitled to a full and fair opportunity to be heard,” Arger said, adding he learned of Dillon’s absence when he entered the Board chamber.

County Counsel Minh Tran said due process guarantees a public hearing, not the attendance of any specific supervisor. Should the Board have deadlocked at 2-2, the absent supervisor would have reviewed the hearing record and voted at a future meeting.

Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards saw more at stake on Tuesday than Mountain Peak winery.

“A loud minority voice has been speaking out against the wine industry, with arguments that do not hold merit and undermine the future vitality not just of vineyards and wineries, but Napa Valley overall,” Wagner wrote to the county.

In a written statement released after the Board’s tentative ruling, Arger depicted Mountain Peak as setting a precedent that disappointed him.

“Winery developers should rejoice because the flood gates are now open for unbridled winery expansion into the most remote agricultural watersheds throughout the county,” he wrote.

The Board of Supervisors appeals hearing lasted from 9:50 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with a break for lunch.

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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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