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Napa County balks at amplified music request by St. Helena winery
Wine Industry

Napa County balks at amplified music request by St. Helena winery

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Sept. 25, 2020 series
Rombauer Vineyards

Rombauer Vineyards is located on Silverado Trail, just north of St. Helena. 

Rombauer Vineyards winery pulled the plug on its request to have amplified music at outdoor events after running into Napa County resistance.

The winery near St. Helena originally asked to have amplified music at five marketing events annually. It pared the request down to one marketing event annually, with the band to stop playing by 7 p.m.

Either way, the Napa County Planning Commission on Sept. 16 was reluctant to grant permission for an activity that a county report said “is not typically approved for wineries.”

“I don’t want us to get into the habit of including live music as a part of what is supposed to be an accessory to the agricultural use of the property,” Commission chairperson Dave Whitmer said. “I see (this) as going beyond that.”

So did Commissioner Joelle Gallagher.

“I just don’t think amplified music and wine education go together,” she said. “I think we need to separate that. That is not something I am in favor of because of the precedent-setting nature of it.”

Napa County allows winery marketing activities for wine education and the development of customers. Marketing plans must be incidental, related and subordinate to the operation of the winery as a wine production facility.

But winery owners in recent years have said they must rely increasingly on direct-to-consumer sales to survive. That has led to debates over when wineries cross the line from being primarily agricultural facilities to what critics call “event centers.”

“We are not in the entertainment business,” Bob Knebel of Rombauer Vineyards told commissioners at one point. “We are in the business of producing beautiful wine and providing a nice, pleasant, relaxing hospitality experience.”

The Planning Commission in December 2019 dealt with a request from Shadybrook winery to have amplified music at outdoor events. It declined in that case to grant permission.

Rombauer Vineyards had another amplified music request. It wanted to use speakers to play background music outdoors near its tasting room. While commissioners didn’t oppose the idea, they did have concerns about how to make certain neighbors wouldn’t be disturbed.

As a result, Rombauer Vineyards also withdrew this request.

Rombauer Vineyards also asked to having hosted wine tasting at a picnic area. Again, while not necessarily opposed to the idea, commissioners discussed potential restrictions to make certain neighbors wouldn’t be bothered. In the end, Rombauer Vineyards withdrew the request.

A host of other Rombauer Vineyard requests proved less contentious and won Planning Commission approval.

The winery participated in the county’s code compliance program that allows wineries to try to correct use permit violations without facing penalties. It had approval for 34 full-time and part-time employees, actually had 70 and secured permission for 81.

Also, the winery had approval for 74 parking spaces, actually had 79 and secured permission for 83.

Beyond the code violations, the winery secured permission for such things as converting a conference room into a private tasting area and having a total of 4,710 guests annually instead of 3,300 at its 55 annual marketing events.

Rombauer Vineyards is located at 3522 Silverado Trail. The late Koerner and Joan Rombauer secured permission from the county in 1982 to build the winery. The winery can produce up to 450,000 gallons annually.

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You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or

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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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