Napa County has told the new The Prisoner winery to stop selling art, stop selling jellies and jams and stop offering food services that the county says are comparable to those found at a restaurant or café.
The county issued an “apparent code violation notice” to The Prisoner Wine Company owned by Constellation Brands. The Prisoner is located at 1178 Galleron Road near St. Helena at the former Franciscan Estate Winery property.
County Code Compliance Officer David Giudice said a notice is a first step.
“That gives them an opportunity,” he said. “They have responded to our letter already and we’ll be discussing how they’ll get into compliance.”
If violators refuse to come into compliance, the county can take such steps as fining them and taking them to court, Giudice said.
Constellation Brands issued a statement by email on Wednesday.
“While we can’t comment on ongoing private conversations relating to our business, what I can tell you is that we are in close communication with Napa County as we work to understand and resolve any issues,” Constellation spokesperson Alexandra Wagner said.
A previous Napa Valley Register story described a section of The Prisoner called The Makery.
Guests see a hall lined with shops where rotating merchants and artisans display and sell their wares. They can taste four or five wines for $125, with each tasting paired with a different course prepared by six chefs in an open kitchen. One course is A5 Wagyu Beef, the November story said.
Napa County allows art displays and food-and-wine pairings at wineries. But wineries cannot sell art and rules govern food service to keep wineries from functioning as a café or restaurant.
A caveat with Napa County winery rules is that they were created over decades. Some older wineries have rights grandfathered in to do things that newer wineries are denied.
Descriptions of The Makery section of The Prisoner caught the attention of some residents who worry that the county’s agricultural nature could be overshadowed by event center wineries.
Resident George Caloyannidis told the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 4 that wineries are serving food at cost – which is allowed – but profit from the sale of wine. He spoke during the public comments section of the meeting.
“They treat it as a corporate marketing expense—need I mention the six chefs and the two commercial kitchens at The Prisoner?” Caloyannidis said. “How can restaurants compete in this uneven playing field you created?”
Resident Eve Kahn has followed news reports on The Prisoner winery and has talked to county officials about her concerns. It’s embarrassing that a new winery with a lot of hype has already received a violation notice, she told supervisors on Tuesday.
Supervisor Diane Dillon has not been to The Prisoner. While not specifically addressing the alleged The Prisoner violations, she said if a winery does something such as serve five courses with one tasting, that could be an abuse.
“It’s most definitely outside of what is envisioned,” Dillon said on Wednesday. “It is a concern. Wineries are not supposed to be competition for restaurants in our cities and towns.”
Giudice said The Prisoner is the only active winery code enforcement case of its type. But that doesn’t mean more won’t be forthcoming.
“I think what we’re seeing a lot more of with the current economy and the competition and direct marketing sales, everybody is trying different things to bring people into their wineries,” he said. “We’re seeing people pushing their use permits more often these days.”