The Caldwell Vineyard winery case is returning to the Napa County Planning Commission with Board of Supervisors guidance on how to balance traffic and visitation in an area served by a narrow, rural road.
Supervisors on Tuesday heard an appeal of the Planning Commission’s denial of the Coombsville area winery’s growth requests. They remanded the case to the commission for further deliberations with a long list of things to consider.
“To simply deny this does not give certainty to what we expect in these rural road scenarios,” Supervisor Belia Ramos said.
Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said after the meeting that the Caldwell case could return to the Planning Commission in late April or early May.
This case could have implications for other, proposed winery expansions along narrow, off-the-beaten-path roads with rural residents. The rise of direct-to-consumer marketing has led to wineries seeking more visitors, which can create tensions in places served by narrow, less-traveled roads.
Caldwell Vineyard winery is located at 270 Kreuzer Lane, a rural road east of the city of Napa. The Caldwells asked to increase wine production from 25,000 gallons annually to 35,000 gallons annually and increase the number of employees, among other things.
Most controversially, they asked to increase visitation. A proposal before the Planning Commission called for increasing maximum daily visitation from eight guests to 35 guests. It called for increasing annual marketing events from 13 to 19. Annual visitation would rise from 2,350 guests to 13,115 guests.
Caldwell Vineyard officials at the Board of Supervisors meeting proposed reductions that county staff said would bring annual visitation to 9,605 guests.
Supervisors want planning commissioners to consider such ideas as phasing in visitation increases, capping vehicle trips to the winery and enforcing the limit with a trip monitoring system, having the winery keep its visitor log numbers under penalty of perjury and having the winery make annual reports to the commission.
Supervisor Diane Dillon was the lone supervisor who voted against the remand because she favored denying the appeal. She too has issues she said need to be considered and raised the specter of the 2017 Atlas fire that burned in the hills near the winery.
“Is there no consideration of fire season coinciding with peak visitation season? ... October 2017 was not a one-off,” Dillon said.
Neighbors at 14 residences along Kreuzer Lane have formed the Kreuzer Lane Protection Committee. Attorney Denis Shanagher on their behalf said the requested increased visitation is too much for a narrow road in the agricultural watershed zoning district.
“Your Planning Commission got this absolutely right,” Shanagher told supervisors during the public comments period before the Board’s discussion.
Caldwell Vineyard cultivates a bit of an outlaw image for its marketing, with its website saying that the winery is “a little bit about misbehaving, taking chances and mischief.” But founder John Caldwell was all business before the Board of Supervisors.
He explained how he bought the first parcels of his Kreuzer Lane property in 1974, planted grapes in 1980 and built a winery in 2002. His use permit allowed eight visitors a day at a time before direct-to-consumer sales became necessary for a small winery to survive, he said. That’s why he wants the increase.
“This is really what we need going forward to stay in business in Napa Valley,” Caldwell told supervisors. “It really is make or break for us.”
Attorney Tom Adams on behalf of the Caldwells said the environmental analysis for a bigger version of the project concluded there are no significant impacts. He said winery officials to the best of their ability reached out to neighbors to try to get meaningful input.
“Some just haven’t been able to be satisfied,” Adams said.
Kreuzer Lane resident Faith D’Aluisio told supervisors that tour buses going to the winery have blocked driveways, winery visitors have tromped through yards and tour groups have been noisy. She said Caldwell winery activities “threaten to swallow our small neighborhood whole.”
Neighborhood resident Matt Sabella said winery visitation that might be acceptable for a Silverado Trail winery isn’t suitable for every location.
“The expansion requested is completely out of proportion for the Kreuzer Lane neighborhood,” he said.
In the written Caldwell appeal, Adams wrote that some neighbors are objecting to an agricultural operation, despite the county’s right-to-farm law.
“Put simply, in Napa County, agriculture includes the right to produce, market and sell wine – even if it conflicts with ‘urban’ uses,” Adams wrote. “In a conflict between agriculture and urban (i.e. residences), county policy is that agriculture prevails.”
County resident Steven Rea asked supervisors to favor the Caldwell proposal.
“It is true the small family farmers living in the valley are watching,” he said.
Several Kreuzer Lane residents said they are not against agriculture, but rather oppose tourism activities at a level that one person compared to a “daily carnival.”
Kreuzer Lane resident Vince Siebern told supervisors that Caldwell winery has the right to increase its patronage, “but not at the expense of driving the rest of us batty by people driving up the road all of the time.”
He objected to the amount of visitors that Caldwell winery sought. So did Kreuzer Lane resident Joseph Sabella.
“Were not NIMBYs,” Sabella said. “We’re not here to destroy the Caldwell winery.”