Reynolds Family Winery first survived a close brush with the Atlas Fire and then successfully concluded a three-year attempt to secure higher wine production and visitor caps from the county.
The Atlas Fire that started Oct. 8 menaced the 13-acre property along Silverado Trail near Soda Canyon Road. It ended up singeing an oak tree and sparing the winery and home.
That meant Steve and Suzie Reynolds still had a business to grow. On Wednesday, they won expansion approvals from the Napa County Planning Commission after spending more than $100,000 and three years on the effort.
Consultant Donna Oldford said it will cost more than $1 million to retrofit the winery to meet current codes and requirements. One expense will be adding a left-turn lane on Silverado Trail.
“This process is not for the faint of heart,” Oldford said.
Reynolds Family Winery received approval to increase wine production from 20,000 gallons annually to 40,000 gallons annually. It can expand weekly visitation from 60 people to 280 people. It can increase annual marketing events from three to 54.
The winery made the requests after being notified by the county in 2014 that it was violating its use permit.
Reynolds broke its 20,000 gallon annual production cap by averaging 23,500 gallons from 2010-2012. It broke its 60-person-a-week visitation cap by having anywhere from 49 to 384 visitors, a county report said.
Steve Reynolds described how he had been a dentist who sold everything to start a winery. Napa County has grown over the past 20 years and in his own life, amid changing diapers, taking kids to school, driving a tractor and making wine, he didn’t notice that tasting room visitors had exceeded the cap.
For three years, the winery has “pretty much been in jail,” complying with the permit numbers while working with the county, he said. Meanwhile, such expenses as cork and glass have risen.
Oldford said the owners depend on tours and tastings to build the wine club. Wine clubs are critical for wineries of this size, she said.
Reynolds called the tasting room the winery’s link to the world.
“Our goal is to be the best world-class, small family winery,” he told commissioners. “But we want to show our wares. The farmer needs the farmers market. Help us little guys survive. That’s all we’re asking today.”
Planning Commissioners said they appreciated the winery owning up to the code violations. Then they discussed how to respond.
“It shouldn’t be punitive,” Commissioner Michael Basayne said. “We definitely want to work with applicants who try to work with the county.”
Commissioner Terry Scott said small family wineries are the best part of Napa’s past and will be the best part of its future. The county must support to the degree possible efforts by such wineries to succeed.
“Government is here to help, in my mind,” Scott said.
Commissioner Anne Cottrell had a concern that caused her to cast the lone dissenting vote.
“I wouldn’t suggest this commission act punitively,” Cottrell said. “I don’t see a reason to do that. But I’m not quite comfortable approving visiting and marketing levels which are twice what the comparable wineries would have.”
The county created a comparison chart with 14 wineries that produce 35,000 gallons to 45,000 gallons annually. The average tasting room visitation cap is 6,213 people annually, compared to the 14,560 requested by Reynolds. The average annual marketing visitors cap is 691, compared to 1,901 requested by Reynolds.
Cottrell said she was concerned about setting a new standard for visitation intensity.
“It is so important to our community that small wineries succeed,” Cottrell said. “But it’s also critical that their path to success is a sustainable one and mindful to others to follow.”
Commission Chairwoman Jeri Gill said the commission has stressed it wants applicants to do long-term planning when they request visitation caps, so they don’t return to the commission every few years asking for more. She saw the Reynolds numbers as being in that spirit.
The county has also expressed concern about water use for an expanded Reynolds Family Winery operation, given that the winery is located in an area that has experienced groundwater problems. Reynolds owners responded by proposing to use slightly less water than today.
“The question is, how can you do more and use less?” Public Works Director Steven Lederer said. “Their answer is increased efficiencies, primarily in the vineyards.”
He doesn’t care how Reynolds achieves the savings, Lederer said. The county will establish a water use cap and the winery must place meters on the wells. If the winery exceeds its allotment, Public Works will notify the Planning Commission, he said.
Reynolds Family Winery is located at 3266 Silverado Trail northeast of the city of Napa. The approval includes a 2,266-square-foot addition to the winery, for a total of 12,975 square feet.