Napa County supervisors are in the thick of the action this year when it comes to approving new wineries and winery expansions.
They are scheduled to handle five winery-related appeals in 2017, and the year is not over yet.
Supervisors have already tentatively upheld the Planning Commission approval for Mountain Peak winery and are to discuss a Raymond Vineyards winery expansion on Tuesday. Appeals involving The Caves at Soda Canyon, Flynnville Wine Co. and Cuvaison Estate Wines are pending.
“It’s certainly more than I’ve seen in the last three years,” Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said. “It’s a large number in my general experience.”
Yet Morrison, who took his Napa County post in March 2014, said planners who have been here longer say winery-related appeals ebb and flow.
From 2008-2016, the Board of Supervisors had an average of 2.5 winery-related appeals annually on its agenda. That includes five appeals in 2014, though two of those came from wineries appealing building occupancy decisions by staff and were withdrawn.
Raymond Vineyards is located at 849 Zinfandel Lane north of Rutherford. It seeks to merge its 61-acre property with the adjacent, 25-acre Ticen Ranch, allowing the creation of a new entrance from Highway 29. It also seeks to legitimize various code violations.
The Planning Commission on March 15 approved Raymond Vineyards’ request by a 3-2 vote. Filing the appeal are Beckstoffer Vineyards, Frank Leeds and Kelleen Sullivan.
One objection is the proposed creation of a long driveway and additional parking that requires the removal of more than two acres of vineyard.
“The project makes a mockery of the county’s protections for the agricultural preserve,” said the appeal written by San Francisco-based law firm Shute Mihaly & Weinberger.
On March 15, planning Commissioner Michael Basayne gave his take on this criticism.
“I don’t like to see removal of vineyard property from the county’s ledger,” Basayne said. “However, with the applicant’s purchase of this land, a large estate is being created which is less likely to be broken up.”
The Board of Supervisors will hear the Raymond Vineyards appeal at 9:35 a.m. Tuesday at the county Administration Building, 1195 Third St. in Napa.
Flynnville Wine Co.
Flynnville Wine Co. kept shrinking its proposed project over several years until it won unanimous Planning Commission approval on April 5. The Flynnville property is located at 1184 Maple Lane and borders Highway 29 near Calistoga.
Commissioners approved a 40,000-gallons-a-year winery with up to 25 visitors daily. Six parcels are to be merged into a 10-acre parcel, the minimum size for a winery.
The appeal by Joan Zoloth and Travis Stephens said Flynnville is turning strict county wine marketing limits “on their head” and would create a “cacophony of noise and traffic.”
The Planning Commission saw the project differently.
“In the end, this is an ag use in an ag area,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Jeri Gill said on April 5.
The Caves at Soda Canyon
The Caves at Soda Canyon built a cave portal and patio without county permission. In 2015, the Planning Commission turned down an after-the-fact request for approval.
But the commission decided on April 19 The Caves at Soda Canyon at 2275 Soda Canyon Road had done enough penance. By a 3-1 vote, it approved the portal and outdoor tasting areas including the patio, as well as increased maximum wine production from 30,000 gallons annually to 60,000 gallons.
“This is something I’m completely comfortable with,” Gill said.
Neighbor Steven Stulls filed an appeal that said issues exist over an easement on his property. He also claimed the county approvals allow The Caves at Soda Canyon to command a higher asking price at neighbors’ expense. A Sotheby’s International Realty listing said the winery is available for $12.5 million.
The Cuvaison appeal comes with an unusual twist – the owner’s application for permit changes has yet to go to the Planning Commission.
Rather, the owners are trying to complete an application for more visitors and employees at 1221 Duhig Road in the Carneros region. Their appeal described a stalemate with county staff over possible county demands for a left turn lane and relocated driveway.
Should the Board of Supervisors rule in favor of Cuvaison, the owners would still have to bring their completed application to the Planning Commission.
Mountain Peak Winery
The Board of Supervisors on May 23 tentatively denied an appeal seeking to overturn Planning Commission approval of Mountain Peak Winery 3265 Soda Canyon Road. Opponents said the proposed winery is too big for the remote setting.
Supervisors are scheduled to take a final vote on the Mountain Peak Winery appeal denial when it meets at 9 a.m. on Aug. 22.
All of this appeals activity is giving several high-profile, proposed winery projects a second life. First, they appear before the Planning Commission, then have an encore on appeal before the Board of Supervisors.