A proposal to build the Scarlett winery might seem like a slam dunk, given the location is to be on 48 acres in the agricultural preserve that is the heart of Napa Valley wine country.
But access to the 30,000-gallon-a-year winery east of Rutherford would be from one-lane, 15-foot-wide, walnut tree-lined Ponti Road. Other residents said the road isn’t suitable to serve a winery with up to 4,900 visitors annually.
That had the county Planning Commission on Wednesday discussing a familiar issue with a new twist. Often, conflicts between proposed wineries and rural living involve a more remote location, such as a dead-end road in a canyon.
“This is more complicated than I think it appeared when you look at acreage and gallonage,” Planning Commissioner Anne Cottrell said.
Commissioners delayed a decision until Dec. 4 amid comments and letters from opponents.
“Ponti Road is one of the real treasures of Napa Valley,” neighbors Carson and Suzanne Levit wrote to the county. “It is quiet, peaceful, birds are often singing. Currently, the total number of cars driving on Ponti Road on a typical day is probably less than five. The Scarlett winery would change all of that.”
They and others suggested a solution – move the proposed winery’s location on the 48-acre property and move the entrance to Silverado Trail.
Consultant Donna Oldford on behalf of the applicants said they spent $20,000 looking at the idea. A left-turn lane and acceleration lanes would be needed on Silverado Trail. Fill and grading would be needed because there is a 15 percent grade difference between Silverado Trail and the property. Trees and vines would be removed.
She viewed the Ponti Road entrance as the better alternative to this “environmental degradation.” Winery visitor traffic would be equivalent of a car every one-and-a-half hours, Oldford said.
Applicant Sherratt Reicher of Scarlett Wines said the family has grown great grapes for years and the next step is having a small, family winery. The operation is named after his daughter Scarlett and is to be passed onto the next generation.
“I would hope the neighbors and everyone can consider this is what we do for a living,” Reicher said.
Oldford said a winery in Napa County is considered an accessory use to agriculture, not a commercial use. The proposed winery is to be in the agricultural preserve and is allowed by the county’s general plan and zoning.
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“If you can’t approve this winery, I don’t know what you can approve,” Oldford told commissioners.
On behalf of neighbors George and Nancy Montgomery, the Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger law firm submitted a 139-page packet opposing the winery as proposed. Such issues as traffic, hydrology, biological resources and noise require an environmental impact report, the law firm said.
“Does the Planning Commission really want to approve the continued destruction of our area, our environment?” George Montgomery said. “Aren’t we beyond the tipping point to preserve the environment of the Napa Valley?”
Nancy Montgomery said the winery would bring headlights, overflow parking and the noise of idling cars and parties to the rural neighborhood.
“While a winery is considered agricultural, it has commercial aspects,” she said. “We all know that. That’s visitors, and the commerce of making wine and selling wine is commercial.”
Neighbors said that the applicants didn’t talk to them about the proposed winery. Oldford said the neighbors are hard to reach and that some live out of town. While the Planning Commission wanted no part of that dispute, it wanted the two sides to talk.
Commissioner Dave Whitmer said he observed a lot of passion in the room from the two sides over the proposed winery. He asked that this passion to be converted to a passion for getting to know each other.
“What I sense is really missing in this neighborhood that you all talk about as being this idyllic place is relationships with your neighbors,” he said.
Commissioners expressed hope that the neighbors and winery applicants can bridge their differences before the next hearing on Dec. 4.
“Please talk to your neighbors and please work together before you get to Planning Commission,” Commission chairperson Joelle Gallagher said.
Editor's Note: This item has been modified to correct the accompanying artist's sketch. The original version depicted an unrelated development proposal.