Caldwell Vineyard in rural Coombsville finally won Napa County approval to expand operations, though neither the winery nor neighbors wary about its growth received exactly what they sought.
The winery on narrow, dead-end Kreuzer Lane went before the Napa County Planning Commission three times in 2018 with visitation and wine production growth requests. It appealed the ultimate denial to the Board of Supervisors, which in March 2019 remanded the case back to the commission.
On Wednesday, the Planning Commission increased annual visitation from 2,350 guests to 6,239. By-appointment tasting guests maximums will vary, from 190-per-week during April, September, October and November to 84-per-week during the remaining eight months.
The winery also has marketing events, but can have no tastings on those days, complicating the overall annual visitation calculation. County officials expect the final calculation will be slightly lower.
Caldwell Vineyard three years ago had asked for more than 13,000 visitors annually, then lowered this recently to 6,349.
“The Caldwells are trying their best to meet the neighbors’ concerns,” consultant Terry Scott said on behalf of Caldwell Vineyard. “And frankly, a 54-percent reduction in (originally requested) visitation for a winery based on direct-to-consumer sales is a particularly substantial concession.”
But Caldwell Vineyard didn’t get its exact visitation request when the commission modified the weekly maximum proposals.
Neither did neighbors who had united as the Kreuzer Lane Protection Committee. They had said they would be willing to accept 5,000 visitors annually as a maximum.
After the meeting, attorney Denis Shanagher on behalf of the Kreuzer Lane group called the outcome “a reasonable compromise.” Scott on behalf of Caldwell Vineyard said the Caldwells are committed to living within the commission’s requirements.
The commission also approved increasing wine production from 25,000 gallons annually to 35,000 gallons annually, increasing the number employees and other requests. All winery guest activities must be inside.
Caldwell Vineyard was founded by John Caldwell and promotes somewhat of a renegade image. The winery’s website has a humorous account of Caldwell’s early-1980s effort to smuggle French clonal grape vines over the Canadian border, stressing that the vines were disease-free. The winery has a club called The Society of Smugglers.
The Planning Commission heard varying viewpoints during public comments.
Consultant Alicia Rose Kelley said the neighbors were imposing their wishes for a quieter neighborhood, even though they moved to an agricultural area. The Caldwells’ willingness to reduce their original visitation request by more than 50 percent is more than ample and perhaps too much of a concession, she said.
“It is incredibly difficult for wineries to become profitable and make a living here in Napa Valley,” Kelley told commissioners.
Kreuzer Lane resident Matt Sabella said many of the neighbors lived in the area before the winery was established. He wants the winery to do well, but the needs of the winery must be balanced against the needs of the neighborhood, he said.
“As you’ve heard already, it’s not a winery that happens to have a neighborhood, it’s a neighborhood that happens to have a winery,” he told the Planning Commission.
Shanagher pointed out that Caldwell Vineyard over the years has had code violation issues. Most recently, the county on Nov. 12, 2019 gave the winery a notice for alleged violations tied to a September marketing event, among them having amplified music and not notifying neighbors.
The violation notices had some Kreuzer Lane neighbors skeptical whether Caldwell Vineyard will comply with the future restrictions imposed by the county.
Several commissioners also expressed concern about the latest violation notice. The commission decided that the visitation increases won’t take place until the winery resolves the compliance issues.
“My message is, the commission takes code compliance very seriously,” Commissioner Dave Whitmer said.
You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.