LMR Rutherford Estate Winery

A photo simulation of the 2014 version of the planned LMR Rutherford Estate winery at 1790 St. Helena Highway South. The revised version approved by the Planning Commission on Wednesday among other things removes the water tanks in front.

Napa County has granted changes to yet-to-be-built LMR Rutherford Estate winery along Highway 29 that owner Ted Hall said are needed to make its environmentally sensitive approach to winemaking a reality.

County planning commissioners were convinced at Wednesday’s meeting and modified a 2014 approval, issuing a road setback exception variance in the process. They were impressed by the Long Meadow Ranch winery vision.

“It sets a lofty standard for a green winery in Napa County in the future,” Commissioner Terry Scott said.

Commissioner Michael Basayne agreed. “You are indeed a thought leader in what you have provided here for a design benchmark,” he said.

Long Meadow Ranch farms more than 2,000 acres in Napa and Marin counties, much of it pasture. Among other things, it runs the Farmstead restaurant in St. Helena.

LMR Rutherford Estate is located at 1790 St. Helena Highway, a quarter mile north of the Highway 128 intersection. The winery is to be on 30 acres, but Hall said Long Meadow Ranch owns 90 acres at the site.

The Napa County Planning Commission in July 2014 approved the winery. Hall said goals include having a rain collection system so the winery doesn’t use groundwater, a tank cleaning method that uses no caustics and a solar power system so no grid power is needed.

Being energy self-sufficient necessitates having energy efficient buildings. Hall said the winery will have walls that are particularly well insulated.

“It performs even though it’s above ground as if it were a cave,” Hall said.

One other goal was that the project work out financially. Hall articulated what he said is a deeply held view of Long Meadow Ranch that has been proven by its other activities.

“We have learned if you think hard enough and work hard enough on these issues, doing the right thing almost always makes economic sense,” Hall said.

Design work on the project revealed the need for the requested modifications, to accomplish such things as have enough covered space for the rain collection system, Hall said.

The Planning Commission agreed. It approved increasing the amount of building space, covered outdoor space and other winery facilities from 21,504 square feet to 35,829 square feet, while keeping production at 100,000 gallons annually.

As in 2014, the commission granted a rules exception called a variance so winery structures can be constructed 160 feet from Highway 29, instead of the minimum of 600 feet. A county report said the winery setback rule is designed to avoid having Highway 29 look like a “strip mall” of wineries.

But county planning staff recommended granting the latest LMR Rutherford Estate variance request, for the same reasons as in 2014.

Complying with the setback would mean building close to Bale Slough, which can flood in the winter. That would require either bringing in fill so the structures could be constructed above the flood plain or making the base of the structures watertight, a county report said.

In addition, the county by issuing the variance keeps the winery away from a natural resource and an environmentally sensitive area, the applicant said.

The Napa County Planning Commission has been criticized from some quarters for issuing variances. Gill defended the practice in this case.

“This is a great example of when variances are useful as tools in proper planning,” Gill said. “I do not want to see applicants come to us hat in hand with a request for a variance when it makes this much sense … in many cases, they are the environmentally superior tool to use to create a good project.”

Long Meadow Ranch at its Rutherford site has 74 acres of vineyards, 10 acres of vegetables, 200 commercial fruit trees, bees and egg-laying poultry.

“This is a working agricultural landscape, it’s not just activities put on site to create some pseudo-authentic experience for guests who are coming to taste wine,” Gill said.

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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.