Wineries, Tourism Under Scrutiny in Napa

Two planning policy updates under review on tourists and winery development

by Andrew Adams
Increased traffic is one of the issues prompting Napa County authorities to reconsider limits on new winery development.

Napa, Calif.—Recommendations about how Napa County should handle new winery development as well as how many visitors a winery should be allowed to accommodate go before the county’s planning commission next week.

The proposals stem from residents concerned that Napa County was becoming home to too many wineries drawing too many visitors who cause traffic and diminish the bucolic charm of the region. On March 10, more than 400 people attended a joint meeting of the county’s Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission, which generated hours of debate and the decision to form a committee tasked to review and make recommendations about future winery development.

Since then, the 17-member Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee comprised of representatives from the wine industry, other businesses and the community at large, has wrestled with a long list of proposals before eventually agreeing with a supermajority vote on 12 recommendations. Those recommendations will be presented to the commission during its meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. on Sept. 16.

Ted Hall, owner of Long Meadow Ranch winery and vineyards, and Yountville mayor John Dunbar were the co-chairs of the committee. The committee’s entire report can be found on the county’s website

Some of the committee’s key recommendations included:

• Limit the total development (including wineries, residences and other permitted uses) of parcels up to 40 acres in agricultural areas to no more than a cumulative total of 20% of the property. Development of parcels larger than 40 acres would be capped at 8 acres.

• Include caves and outdoor hospitality areas in the total area used to determine maximum square footage for accessory uses of wineries.

• Prohibit new wineries from using “hold and haul” to take their wastewater off-site except during initial construction, the first year of operation or during an emergency.

• Establish an approval process for small wineries that would be defined as smaller than 5,000 square feet in size and producing fewer than 30,000 gallons (about 12,605 cases) of wine per year. These wineries would be limited to less than 10 marketing events per year with no more than 30 attendees except for one wine auction event with up to 100 attendees and less than 40 vehicle trips to the winery per day (five per hour during peak times), except during the auction event.

• All wineries would need to submit a “self-certification” report showing the amount of wine produced, compliance with 75% rule, if applicable, and compliance with other use permit approval conditions.

• New requirements based on the committee’s recommendations would apply to only those wineries that submit use permit applications after Jan. 1, 2016.

The commission has until November to make any decisions on the recommendations before passing along its own report to the Board of Supervisors that would ultimately make any changes to the permit review process.

Taking into account winery visitors
At the same meeting next week, the commission also will study a proposal by the county’s planning staff to change how it reviews the number of tasting room or event visitors a winery could host. As more wineries—especially those producing premium wines at higher price points—have relied on direct-to-consumer sales, they also have needed to increase the size and scale of their tasting rooms and special events.

The growth of winery hospitality has in turn generated concern from winery neighbors and residents of Napa and Sonoma counties about the stress this additional traffic puts on rural infrastructure and if it is appropriate in a rural setting.

At previous meetings this year, the commission and county planning staff discussed developing a baseline level of visitation for wineries that would be modulated for a proposed winery based on its size and location. This formula has proven tricky to determine, however, and instead the commission has updated how it is presented with visitor information to ensure “the county is consistent in its consideration of individual applications.”

The Napa planning staff is recommending the commission review proposed visitor counts by taking into account wineries with comparable production levels and with similar locations as well as any site-specific considerations such as if the proposed winery is on a dead-end road.

The commission would compare winery applications with information on the number of tasting room and event visitors per year for wineries throughout the entire industry and within a historic context—or at least use-permit applications reviewed since 2006.

2014 winery audit
The commission also will review the results of the county’s annual random audit of wineries to check on their compliance with regulations relative to number of visitors and using enough Napa County grapes, if required. Last year, county staff selected 20 wineries and five alternatives for review. Of those 25, a few had closed, were for sale or within city limits and not subject to review. Eighteen wineries then went through the review process. 

According to the staff report on the audit, of those 18 wineries reviewed three “small” wineries producing less than 30,000 gallons of wine were exceeding the limit of how much wine they could produce per year. Two of these wineries also were not compliant with the requirement to source at least 75% of their total grapes from Napa County. The identities of the wineries in the audit are kept anonymous.

Other winery projects
The commission also will review a proposal by Dalle Valle Vineyards to build a new 5,400-square-foot barrel storage room that would also include offices, a lab, a chemical storage room and storage areas for vineyard and crush equipment. The winery also is seeking to remove its existing outdoor production area and replace it with a new one measuring 1,270 square feet.

Materra winery, which opened just in time for the 2015 vintage and is owned by Cunat Premium Vineyards, is seeking to modify its use permit to increase total production from 50,000 gallons (21,00 cases) to 85,000 gallons (35,700 cases) and increase its septic system to handle the increased production. The county’s staff is recommending the commission approve both projects.

(Editor's Note: This story was updated on Sept. 15, 2015 to correct how many wineries were reviewed and that three small Napa County wineries exceeded their annual production limit in 2014 and that two of those were not compliant with the requirement to source at least 75% of their grapes from within the county.)

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