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wine industry

Napa County needs time to unravel Sinskey winery requests

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Dec. 4, 2020 series
Atlas Fire

The ground was blackened underneath grapevines at Robert Sinskey Vineyards, 6320 Silverado Trail, during the Atlas Fire of October 2017. On Wednesday, the winery asked the county's Planning Commission to allow more visitation at popular times to help compensate for setbacks from wildfires and the pandemic. 

Robert Sinskey Vineyards and Napa County need more time to agree on what is allowed at the Silverado Trail winery south of Yountville, such as the number of visitors.

The winery is among dozens that are participating in a county code compliance program. They have the chance to clean up use permit violations without facing penalties.

On Wednesday, the Napa County Planning Commission held a public hearing, then continued the matter until Jan. 20. It wanted to make sure county staff and Robert Sinskey Vineyards agree about what is already happening at the winery.

“We’re not there yet,” Commission Chair Dave Whitmer said.

Napa County assigns visitation caps to wineries. A county staff report had one set of numbers for how much visitation is allowed and taking place at the Robert Sinskey Vineyards. Winery officials had a different interpretation.

“I am thoroughly confused about the numbers at this point,” Commissioner Andrew Mazotti said.

He wasn’t the only one who wanted clarity. Sinskey said what the county previously memorialized in the winery’s use permit is different than his understanding and interpretation.

All of that proved too much to reconcile in one hearing. But Commissioner Anne Cottrell thanked Sinskey for showing up and explaining the challenges facing his business from fires and the pandemic.

“This winery is everything to us,” Sinskey told commissioners. “We have no financial backers. The last few years have been incredibly challenging.”

The 2017 Atlas Fire burned up to the winery. Sinskey winery lost its Stags Leap District vineyard to the fire and tons of fruit to smoke taint from other fires in recent years. This year brought the COVID-19 pandemic, with its various business restrictions.

The winery this year made only 600 cases of wine. The various disasters have been financially devastating, Sinskey said.

“As a result, Silicon Valley Bank and the government have become our silent partners,” he said.

Sinskey elaborated in a letter to the commission. The bright spot is direct-to-consumer business. The winery does good business when it is able to be open amid the pandemic, but costs have gone through the roof, he said.

“If we are open or not, we need to maintain and pay our employees,” Sinskey wrote. “The only way we can bring in revenue needed to thrive is to be able to capture the peak traffic flows when they happen.”

The winery might go from no customers during the week to a full house on the weekend, Sinskey wrote. He wants the flexibility to take advantage of the peaks.

All of this must fit in with the daily and annual visitation caps in the winery’s use permit. Figuring out what is allowed at Sinskey winery will take more time.

Sinskey ended his presentation to the commission on an optimistic note. He believes there is a bright light and that tourism lost to recent disasters will return to Napa Valley, he said.


The U.S. Postal Service recommends mailing your holiday gifts early this year. USPS expects the week between December 14th and 21st will to be the busiest.It is expanding its Sunday delivery operations this year in populated some areas to prepare handle for a the expected large increase in online orders.If you procrastinate, USPS says you can ship items in time using priority mail express by December 23rd.


Barry Eberling's memorable 2020 Napa Valley Register stories

Napa Valley Register reporter Barry Eberling share his most memorable stories of 2020.

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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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