Mountain Peak Winery

An image of the planned Mountain Peak Winery on Soda Canyon Road. Much of the winery is to be located in caves.

Napa County planners approved the controversial, proposed Mountain Peak Winery amid debate whether it’s a good fit for a remote area of Soda Canyon northeast of the city of Napa.

Mountain Peak Winery is to produce up to 100,000 gallons of wine annually and have up to 14,300 visitors annually, with another 275 total possible with three marketing events. It is to be located at 3265 Soda Canyon Road, more than six miles from Silverado Trail.

The Napa County Planning Commission approved the winery on Wednesday by a 3-1 vote. Commissioners Michael Basayne, Jeri Gill and Terry Scott voted “yes” and Commissioner Anne Cottrell voted “no.”

Opponents said they will appeal the decision to the Napa County Board of Supervisors.

“The location of the winery is not ideal for public access and is not on a well-traveled traffic artery – but I believe it is suitable,” Basayne said, calling Mountain Peak Winery “a well-designed project.”

Scott said the Mountain Peak Winery application is consistent with county zoning, the general plan and county winery policies. He’s concerned about the location, but said the proposed visitation and marketing is relatively modest for a 100,000-gallon-a-year winery.

Cottrell praised features of the winery proposal, such as its green building practices. But for her, the location was a fatal flaw.

“Given it is situated at the top of this winding road that’s in poor condition, I cannot support the level of visitation proposed,” Cottrell said.

The approval decision came after a July 20 hearing and a Wednesday hearing that lasted about three hours.

Consultant Donna Oldford made the pitch on behalf of Mountain Peak. She said most of the winery will be located in caves and not be visible, 92 percent of the grapes will be grown near the winery and the winery construction will meet top green building standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

“About as good as it gets,” Oldford told commissioners.

Disagreeing were the 900 people who opponents said signed a petition opposing Mountain Peak Winery.

Opponents argued that narrow, two-lane, mountainous, dead-end Soda Canyon Road is dangerous. They said having more than 14,000 tourists annually traveling the road to a Mountain Peak Winery would be irresponsible.

Shelle Wolfe showed a video of a large truck hauling grapes on winding Soda Canyon Road. A car drove up behind it and passed by crossing the double-yellow line.

“That’s the kind of thing that happens on this road,” said Wolfe, who lives across the street from the planned Mountain Peak Winery entrance.

Anthony Arger’s family owns property near the Mountain Peak site. Arger told commissioners that the county might be sued in the event of a vehicle accident related to this “poorly located, massively out-of-scale commercial venture,” since residents had given the county notice of dangerous conditions.

“By approving this project, you may be embarking on a road you don’t want to go down,” Arger said.

A county report said a traffic consultant and county roads official reviewed the matter and found no evidence that Mountain Peak Winery would make traffic safety on Soda Canyon Road substantially worse.

During commission deliberations, Scott agreed with residents that Soda Canyon Road badly needs repairs. But, he said, the county can’t hold the Mountain Peak Winery application hostage to pre-existing conditions.

Barbara Guggia recalled being in Yountville last summer and hearing of a fire near her Soda Canyon Road home. Firefighters put it out with no damage to buildings, but Guggia saw it as a close call.

“You may consider us somewhat of an irritant—busybodies, tree-hugging not-in-my-backyard types,” Guggia told commissioners.

But opponents’ concerns are based on facts, not emotions, Guggia said. Mountain Peak Winery traffic would increase the risk of a fire caused by a tossed cigarette butt, a vehicle accident or a trailer with a chain dragging on the pavement, she said.

County fire and road officials concluded that additional Soda Canyon Road traffic would not significantly increase the fire danger.

“A large proportion of the rural roads in Napa County are in hillside settings with high fire hazard, and many of these roads carry much larger volumes in daily traffic, including visitor traffic, without the vehicles causing significant threat of wild land fire,” a county report said.

Resident Amber Manfree said Mountain Peak plans to deposit on the property the soils excavated to create the caves. When rains come, this soil could end up in creeks, which hurts water quality and aquatic habitat.

Deputy Planning Director John McDowell said the project’s stormwater plan has been reviewed by county engineers and complies with county standards.

Soda Canyon Road resident Diane Shepp said the highest and best use of the Mountain Peak land is not a “disproportionately sized, industrial-strength visitors’ center that cannot by any stretch of the imagination be defined as ag.”

But county resident Julie Arbuckle had a different view. She questioned how a winery drawing a maximum of 275 visitors a week, only a few an hour, can be classified as an events center.

The Planning Commission hearing is only Round One. The promised appeal by opponents would bring the issue to the Board of Supervisors in coming months.

“It’s a very important battle to the citizens of Soda Canyon Road and the county at large,” Yeoryios Apallas said on behalf of opponents.

The original posting of this story did not contain the correct number of signatures on petitions against the project. 

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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.