Napa County is searching for ways to handle wineries proposed for challenging locations often far from the Napa Valley floor, be it considering vehicle trips generated or discouraging custom crush facilities.
The Board of Supervisors spent an hour and a half last week searching for answers. The county is faced with an increasing number of wineries being sought in such places as the hills and reached by narrow, winding roads.
“I’m very concerned with wineries that are going out in the middle of nowhere,” Board Chairman Brad Wagenknecht said. “I’m not seeing a huge reason for them.”
Supervisors went through a list of ideas that county staff compiled based on a previous, Aug. 14 board discussion. One addressed changing the county practice of considering how many visitors might go to a proposed, remote winery.
Look at the number of vehicles that would go to the winery, not the number of tasting room and marketing event visitors, a county report said as a conversation starter.
Possibly, devices could be placed on winery driveways that record how many vehicles come and go. The concept fits in with a broader push by the state to limit vehicle miles traveled and the county’s efforts to create a climate action plan that cuts carbon emissions.
“I have no doubt that we’re all ready to go there in some fashion,” Supervisor Diane Dillon said.
The county report mentioned limiting proposed custom crush facilities to industrial and commercial zones. Custom crush wineries allow other wine brands to make wine there. The issue came up because a recent, proposed remote winery would have had no vineyards of its own.
Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said there are appropriate places for custom crush, but not at the end of a long, dead-end road.
“I don’t believe a custom crush facility at the top of Atlas Peak or Soda Canyon is appropriate,” Pedroza said. “I want to have a discussion with the community about that…if there’s no fruit on site, that means they’re bringing trucks up the road.”
Supervisor Ryan Gregory said the custom crush discussion is about restricting more facilities only in the agricultural watershed. They might be appropriate somewhere on the valley floor.
He’d like to look at some type of estate grape requirement, Gregory said. That means a certain amount of grapes would have to be grown by the winery, as opposed to having a winery with no vineyards.
“That’s one thing that jumps out that I think we should handle and not take too long to do it,” he said.
But it was unclear if a board majority wants to go in this direction.
Another question is how freely the county should grant rules exceptions so a winery can be constructed. For example, the county might allow a winery within a required 300-foot road setback to avoid building on a steep hillside.
Critics say the county is too quick to grant exceptions to shoehorn wineries onto unsuitable sites. A county report said that over five years, the Planning Commission considered 112 projects and granted 45 exceptions for 37 projects, with some projects receiving multiple exceptions.
“We shouldn’t be accepting a variance just because it’s the cheaper way of doing something,” Supervisor Belia Ramos said, though she didn’t talk of opposing all rules exceptions.
Bending the rules to make a project fit erodes the county’s standards. Perhaps the Board of Supervisors needs to articulate to the Planning Commission what the tolerance is for rules exceptions, Ramos said.
Dillon said the county needs to go beyond discussing new policies for proposed wineries and address homes being built in rural areas.
“Because all the things people are saying about wineries, a residence could do far more – a mini-mansion or a mega-mansion or whatever,” Dillon said.
Vintner Michael Mondavi, during a public comments period, talked of preserving “the jewel we have here in the Napa Valley.” He noted wine community is busy with the harvest.
“Please, take the time to study this,” Mondavi said. “The wineries would love to be involved with you and do what’s best for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, not just for the next 10 or 15 years.”
The next step for the county looks likely to be a joint meeting between the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission is on the front line of new winery proposals and the ensuing growth controversies.
Unincorporated Napa County has 484 wineries, and 57 percent are located in hillside areas and the Carneros region, county officials said. Thirty-eight percent are located on the valley floor. The rest are in such places as the airport industrial area.