A proposed new winery that seems as basic as they come prompted a few questions because of its location next to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, but won Napa County approval.
Bergman Family Winery will be small by county standards at 8,000 gallons of production annually. At a time when critics are on the lookout for event centers, it will have no visitors or marketing events.
Consultant Donna Oldford, on behalf of the Bergmans, called the project small in scale and simple. And yet it took time to come to fruition.
“It has been like peeling an onion,” she told the Planning Commission on Dec. 19. “We’ve been at this for over two years now. So there is really not much left that has not been visited and vetted.”
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is 1,900 acres of forests and woodlands along Highway 29 between St. Helena and Calistoga. The southern part of the park near the Bergman’s property is adjacent to tiny Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, so that the two parks seem to merge.
Letters to the county from the state Department of Parks and Recreation asked the county to do more to make certain the new winery doesn’t impact Bothe-Napa Valley State Park.
“One of the purposes of the state park is to preserve outstanding, natural, scenic and cultural values,” said the letter from Senior Park and Recreation Specialist Laura Wilson.
County officials and the Planning Commission didn’t see an impact for a new winery that will be about a half-mile from the historic Bale mill building. Although the winery will be near the Bothe-Napa Valley park boundary, Oldford stressed that it will not be located in the park.
Commission Chair Anne Cottrell said she worked at the Bothe-Napa Valley State park kiosk. She and other commissioners agreed parks are important to the Napa County community.
“It’s important we ensure that we get this right,” Commissioner Dave Whitmer said.
One issue the commission looked at was the driveway leading to the Bergman’s property. The winery property shares a private lane for about 4,000 feet with Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park and Stony Hill Vineyard.
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The road width varies from 10 feet to 22 feet, while the county requires a 20-foot width for a winery. The Bergman’s access easement that crosses part of Bothe-Napa Valley State Park allows for a maximum 16-foot width and Bergman representatives said the state won’t allow anything wider.
Planning Commissioners solved the problem by granting a road standards exception. Besides running afoul of state parks, a wider driveway would require removing trees and grading steep slopes.
The county rejected a suggestion by the state to create a new entrance to the Bergman’s proposed winery from Bea Lane. That would also require removing trees and grading steep slopes, as well as traversing a rural-residential neighborhood, a county report said.
Whitmer said building the winery will mean the Bergmans won’t have to haul grapes from their property to other locations to make wine. Trucks with grapes wouldn’t use the shared driveway with Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park.
Pam Bergman told the commission the winery-to-be’s story. She and her husband Alan started visiting Napa Valley 30 years ago and saw the winery property six years ago.
What started out as a second home became the heart and soul of the family, she said. The property for decades had grown grapes for Joseph Phelps and Cakebread.
“We saw the potential in the site and soil and decided to make our own wine,” Pam Bergman said. “Being surrounded by nature has created a sense of urgency to make this special place really shine to its potential. We have redeveloped all of the infrastructure, the vineyard, the garden and the home with the intention of creating a legacy for our family.”
The Bergman winery was the last of three new wineries approved by the Planning Commission in 2018. That total compares to an 11-year average of 7.5 new winery approvals annually. The commission turned down the proposed Dry Creek-Mount Veeder winery and delayed action on the Mondavi family’s proposed Aloft winery.
The Planning Commission approved 10 new wineries in 2017, 11 in 2016, five in 2015, seven in both 2014 and 2013, five in both 2012 and 2011, 11 in both 2010 and 2009 and eight in 2008.
Also in 2018, the commission approved nine major modifications to existing wineries. That compares to 18 in 2017, eight in 2016 and six in 2015.