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Wine Industry

Napa County OKs Scarlett winery despite opposition from rural neighbors

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Aug. 28, 2021 series
Napa County Administration Building

The Napa County Administration Building.

Scarlett winery triumphed in the latest Napa County conflict between a proposed winery and rural neighbors wary about tourist traffic and other perceived potential problems.

The winery as planned would put too much traffic on rural, narrow, dead-end Ponti Road east of Rutherford, where people bike and walk, opponents said. They asked for a project redesign.

“The valley we all know and love has become overrun by commercial enterprise,” said Roman Adler, whose family owns a Ponti Road home.

Consultant Donna Oldford said the proposed winery — which she represented — complies with the county’s general plan, zoning and winery regulations. It will be built on the Napa Valley floor.

“This is what we do. This is the highest and best use of the land … it’s a 48-acre parcel in the heart of the ag preserve,” she said.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday tentatively favored the proposed Scarlett winery, with a final vote to come Oct. 19 after a resolution-of-findings is prepared. It tentatively upheld a Planning Commission approval of the winery and denied an appeal by neighbors.

“When I drove by, I just looked at the neighborhood,” Board of Supervisors Chairperson Alfredo Pedroza said. “These are homes in ag zoning, folks who made a choice to live around vineyards.”

Some of the homes are bigger than the hospitality building planned for the winery, he said.

“You can build a home anywhere in the world,” Pedroza said. “There are very little places where you can have a winery and have a vineyard. I think Napa County is one of those treasures.”

Supervisor Diane Dillon cast the lone dissenting vote. She agreed with neighbors who said the proposed winery could move its entrance from Ponti Road to Silverado Trail, calling this an “excellent alternative.”

Opponents said a Silverado Trail entrance would solve the Ponti Road concerns. They also suggested the proposed winery be relocated on the property to address noise concerns.

“They haven’t just said ‘No,’” said attorney Ellison Folk, who represented the appellants. “Instead, they made an effort to find a reasonable solution.”

But Scarlett winery didn’t want to go that direction. Oldford said it would mean removing four acres of the best-producing vineyards and result in a massive Silverado Trail construction project.

The applicant has spent six years and a quarter-million dollars seeking county approval, Oldford said. The suggested alternative represents an entirely new project, with new traffic, wastewater and other analysis needed.

Winery applications used to take six to eight months and cost about $75,000. Now they take a minimum of five years and cost at least $250,000, she said.

“We’re not real keen about starting all over again,” Oldford said.

A majority of the Board of Supervisors decided there’s no need to do so.

“Just think of all the debates we’ve had as a body about remote wineries, development in the watershed, what’s appropriate up there,” Supervisor Ryan Gregory said. “I think there’s an ideal, a picture we — at least I — have in my head and it’s of a project like this, something this size on the valley floor in a place it’s meant to be.”

Scarlett winery is to be located at 1052 Ponti Road. Applicant Sherratt Reicher and Alsace Company LTD can build a winery that can produce up to 30,000 gallons annually and have a total of about 4,900 annual tasting and event guests.

The Planning Commission approved the winery by a 4-1 vote on Jan. 15, 2020. Neighbors George and Nancy Montgomery filed the appeal. The county rejected another appeal filed by Save Ponti Road, citing failure to pay the associated costs in time.

Appellants filed 16 grounds for appeal, among them claiming the county needed to require an environmental impact report for the proposed winery.

Scarlett Wines was founded by the McGah family, which co-founded the Oakland Raiders in the 1960s. The family purchased Napa Valley vineyards in the 1990s and began making wine in 2006.

Before 2015, the wine went under the name of McGah Family Cellars, according to the Scarlett Wines website. Reicher, who is part of the family, has a daughter named Scarlett.

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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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