Napa County supervisors were preparing to decide the fate of the proposed Dry Creek-Mount Veeder winery when suddenly they had no decision to make.
The Planning Commission on April 18 determined the hilly, forested site at Mount Veeder and Dry Creek roads is the wrong place for a winery. The Board of Supervisors was to hear an appeal on Tuesday.
Attorney Thomas Carey saw only four supervisors were present—Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht was absent that day—and asked for a postponement. When it became clear the Board intended to go ahead with the hearing, he pulled out a letter that withdrew the appeal.
But after the meeting, Carey didn’t sound like his client was giving up. He noted county staff had recommended that the Planning Commission approve the winery, even though a majority of commissioners disagreed.
“This is a good project,” he said.
His withdrawal of the appeal appeared to have been a strategic decision, not a premature surrender. Anyone whose proposed development is denied by the county cannot resubmit an application for a modified project for at least a year.
With four supervisors present, even a 2-2 split would have counted as turning down the appeal. The Board of Supervisors denial on Tuesday would have been finalized on Oct. 23, which is when the one-year clock to resubmit would have begun.
By sticking with the Planning Commission denial on April 18, the countdown to possible resubmittal starts a half-year earlier.
“We plan to rethink our approach,” Carey said after the meeting.
Supervisors discussed the request for a postponement. Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said he hadn’t heard anything that convinced him to grant it.
“I think out of fairness, this Board has made decisions when there’s only been four supervisors up here,” Pedroza said. “I think that is appropriate.”
He has concerns that there are no vineyards on property and the proposed winery would basically be a custom crush facility on a site that might be inappropriate, Pedroza added.
Four supervisors are enough to make a decision, Supervisor Belia Ramos said.
Supervisor Diane Dillon agreed, though she said a bigger issue needs to be addressed. She wondered how the project got to the point that it did, with expenditures and processes gone through by the applicant.
Napa County has, for legitimate reasons such as staff changes, drifted from the original intent of the 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance and its legislative history, Dillon said.
“Without going a lot more into that, I hope that will be a discussion we have and that we have with the Planning Commission, because it’s sorely needed,” Dillon said.
But at this point, Dillon said she thinks the Planning Commission well-articulated the reasons for denial.
The Dry Creek-Mount Veeder winery would be located on 55.5 acres near the intersection of Mount Veeder and Dry Creek roads a few miles northwest of the city of Napa. It would produce up to 30,000 gallons annually.
The applicant proposed to build in a relatively flat clearing, though this would require an exception to the county’s 300-foot road setback. A crush pad would be 84 feet and the winery 104 feet from Mount Veeder Road.
The Planning Commission considered these factors and denied the winery request by a 3-2 vote. All commissioners expressed concerns about the project, though only two were willing to allow the applicant to explore making revisions in light of those concerns.
A county staff report lists the applicant as Oakville Winery LLC. Carey after the April 18 Planning Commission meeting elaborated and said the applicant is Morris Trust. Bryant Morris of the trust previously owned the Aetna Springs resort in the Pope Valley area.
Helen Keplinger, though not the applicant, addressed the Board of Supervisors. She owns Keplinger Wines, but doesn’t have a winery of her own and depends on custom crush facilities. A Dry Creek-Mount Veeder winery could give her label a home.
“As we all know, prices in this valley for small wineries continue to escalate,” Keplinger said.
She asked the Board of Supervisors to postpone the Dry Creek-Mount Veeder winery appeal until all five supervisors could vote on it.
“Helen, everything you said is exactly what I see in Napa- a small brand becoming successful,” Pedroza said. “To me, that’s the local success story we want.”
But he and other supervisors gave no indication they were sold on a Dry Creek-Mount Veeder winery.