Napa County Superior Court will consider whether Bremer Family Winery is a recalcitrant, rule-breaking rogue winery or the victim of a bad rap.
Judge Rodney Stone will preside over the trial pitting Napa County against the winery. The county accuses the winery of doing everything from producing too much wine to having too many visitors. The trial is to begin Aug. 13.
The Bremer situation brings together such hot-button wine country issues as code enforcement, tourism-and-hospitality intensity and the environment.
“A continuing public nuisance” is how county court filings describe alleged Bremer Family Winery rule-breaking.
Papers filed by Bremer attorneys say the winery upon being told about the alleged violations in 2016 immediately began working with the county to resolve the matter. Where the county sees foot-dragging, the Bremer filings depict effort.
Bremer Family Winery is located at 975 Deer Park Road in the mountains east of St. Helena, with operations centered in an 1891, two-story stone building. John and Laura Bremer bought the winery in 2002.
Attorney David Balter of Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty had no comment on behalf the Bremers prior to the trial, though he said he would comment after the trial.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Brad Wagenknecht released a statement on behalf of Napa County.
“Code compliance is a priority of the Napa County Board of Supervisors and county staff,” he said. “The code violations raised in this case have impacted not only neighboring properties but also the broader community and the integrity of the county’s land use system. The county will aggressively pursue the civil actions necessary to seek compliance and address violations of county ordinances.”
Napa County’s lawsuit says the county discovered Bremer winery violations in August 2016. The lists includes producing too much wine, holding unpermitted marketing events, having too many visitors, using the wine barrel storage cave for events and tastings, renting the winery for events, using a tractor storage shed and grounds for a bocce ball court and pizza oven and making various improvements without building permits.
In 2017, Bremer Family Winery filed an application with the county saying the winery has a maximum of 90 visitors daily and wants 300. It also wants to increase the 14,400-gallon annual production cap to 50,000 and deal with various county complaints. The winery denies that it produces too much wine.
Napa County contends that the applications Bremer filed to try to resolve the compliance issues are substantially deficient. The county finally filed the lawsuit requiring the winery to do what it has failed and refused to do voluntarily, the county legal filing says.
The county and winery have also clashed over Bremer’s effort to move thousands of tons of dirt to the site to create a vineyard on rocky ground. The winery received the necessary county erosion control plan permit. But Napa County claims the Bremers did work not covered by the permit.
Napa County goes beyond asking the court to stop alleged illegal activities. It asks for civil penalties of $1,000 per day per violation and attorney’s fees.
The Bremers unsuccessfully sought a jury trial because of these requested penalties. Their legal team argued that the true nature of the county’s lawsuit is to recover money to punish the Bremers.
But the county responded that the sought-after civil penalties are an ancillary issue. It has no “secret intent to extort money from the defendant,” the legal filing said.
On Tuesday, the Napa County Board of Supervisors increased maximum payment for specialized services in the Bremer case from $65,000 to $200,000. The contract is with the firm Allen, Glaessner, Hazelwood & Werth, which will support attorneys from the County Counsel’s Office.
The Napa County Superior Court website said the estimated trial length is three days. A county report said the trial could last five days or longer.