Winery growth proved to be a hot topic in Napa on Tuesday with people lining up by the dozens to have their say.
The growth summit held by the Napa County Board of Supervisors and Napa County Planning Commission beginning at 9:45 a.m. drew about 400 people to the Napa Unified School District auditorium, with the crowd thinning as morning wore on to late afternoon. Some held signs reading “Vision 2050” announcing the formation of a new coalition concerned about growth. Others wore buttons reading “ag-wine community.”
During a public comment period lasting more than three hours, people stepped to the microphone to address county leaders who sat on the auditorium stage with a variety of viewpoints.
Soda Canyon resident Diane Shepp talked about gridlock on Highway 29, water shortages and a plan to cut down 28,000 trees for a vineyard. She asked the county to increase the minimum parcel size for new wineries from 10 acres to 40 acres in the ag preserve.
In some cases, Napa County issues variances to county rules for new wineries. For example, it might allow a winery to be built closer than the required 600 feet minimum distance from a major road because of constraints on the property. Shepp asked that the county impose a moratorium on these variances.
“A variance is a way to get around the law, and that erodes the very effectiveness and intentions of the law,” she said.
Variances from road setback rules hurt the rural views, local resident Eve Kahn said. That could turn Highway 29 or Silverado Trail into a strip mall of wineries, she said.
Local farmer Harvest Duhig said the Duhigs came to Napa in 1853 and bought land from General Vallejo. She doesn’t want the county to change rules in a way that hurts small farmers or hinders their dream of becoming wine makers, she said.
“We love the wine community, the wine business, the agricultural business and we want the county to continue to forge a direction for us in representing all local families who want to continue in agriculture,” she said.
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Vintner Michael Mondavi talked about the changes in Napa Valley since his family arrived 80 years ago, when grapes were No. 5 on the agricultural list instead of number one. He talked about the latest changes that make it hard for small wineries to sell wine through the wholesale system. They depend more on developing a relationship with the consumer through winery tours, wine clubs and the Internet, he said.
The Napa County Farm Bureau had several requests. Among them is to have a larger minimum parcel size for new wineries and to develop a matrix for the number of visitors and marketing events allowed at new wineries.
“With the cumulative impacts we’re all becoming aware of, our current protections may not be adequate,” Napa County Farm Bureau President Norma Tofanelli said.
Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Winegrowers of Napa County and Napa Valley Vintners submitted a joint letter. They asked the county to enforce its regulations and to deny unrealistic winery applications shored up by variances. They offered to work with the county to arrive at guidelines for balancing property size for new wineries with permitted visitation and wine production.
“We are not suggesting hard and fast rules to limit development, but merely a sincere effort to cull out the outlandish before everyone becomes too invested in the outcome,” the letter said.
Dry Creek Road resident Patricia Damery expressed concern about what she called the incursion of vineyards and wineries into hillside watershed areas. The county must make certain runoff doesn’t contaminate waterways with agricultural chemicals. It must not allow groundwater to be drained for irrigation without thought of restoring the aquifer, she said.
“My husband and I believe agriculture can co-exist with nature, but only in balance with nature,” Damery said.
Angwin resident Duane Cronk said some people in Napa County are fighting to save a forest, others to stop a development too close to a road, others to stop development in Angwin.
“I share the anger with people in this audience who are trying to save something for their children and their children’s children,” Cronk said. “And so should you.”