SodaCanyonRoad | Treasury ramps up tourism
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Treasury ramps up tourism


Bill Hocker | Jun 4, 2018 on: Tourism Issues

Update 6/8/18
NVR 6/8/18: Napa Valley's Beaulieu Vineyard to do historic remodel, increase visitation

The use permit modification was approved 5-0 by the planning commission.

A last minute letter from Caltrans, adding a myriad of (very expensive sounding) conditions because of the project's potential traffic impacts right at the intersection of State Rtes 29 and 128, caused uncertainty about the final Conditions of Approval which were left - uncertain.

No one seemed too bothered by an additional 45,000 visitors a year, feeling that this was the right place for visitors to the Napa Valley, while still complaining about the amount of traffic on Hwy 29.

Eve Kahn brought up a good point in public comments: 45,000 more visitors/yr with new meal service at tours, tastings and events and yet no more employees? We already have enough employees said the owner's rep. Are they just standing around waiting for the new marketing plan to be realized? Maybe they're planning a shift from wine making to meal service?

The winery-vs-restaurant issue arose from the dead in both the commissioner discussion of this project and in their general comments at the end of meeting. Comm. Cottrell wanted staff to help the commission understand what the difference was between a food service at a winery (to 550 visitors a day and thousands at events throughout the year, for example) and meal service at a restaurant. Does it just come down to a choice of menu items. Is the French Laundry or Chez Panisse not a restaurant then? asked Eve Kahn. Comm Gallagher said that she had visited a winery with a $75 wine pairing lunch that from her standpoint was no different than a restaurant. Comm. Scott brought up the necessity of food being provided at cost . A $75 lunch was at cost? How do you regulate what is at cost? Comm. Whitmer, as a newby (perhaps still struggling with the obfuscating jargon of the WDO), also wanted to find out from staff what was the difference between a winery serving food and a restaurant serving food.

It is encouraging that the commission is willing to take up the food-service-at-wineries issue again, even if it is 4 years after Comm. Phillips hesitantly broached the issue and after it was diagnosed as a critical change of use made in the 2010 WDO (see here and here) and brought up frequently in APAC discussions and in arguments over the definition of agriculture (see here and here). Over 800,000 new visitor slots have been approved at wineries in those 4 years, based in large part on the increased profits to be made by a sit-down dining experience at the winery.

All of these discussions about the conversion of wineries into de-facto restaurants has so far been ignored by the industry and the government, to the extent that Beaulieu can now ask for and receive a modification that will allow them to serve hundreds of very expensive meals each day, and not be considered a restaurant. After 30 years Terra restaurant closed in St. Helena, not for lack of business but for lack of workers. I suspect their previous employees are all now working in wineries.

With this discussion I can't help thinking that had Dir. Morrison been in the planning manager's chair, he would have asked the commission if they wanted him to agendize a report on food service allowed at wineries and there might have been future discussion. Dep. Dir. Smith didn't make such an offer, and this brief blast from the past will probably simply return there.

5/29/18
NVR 6/4/18: Beaulieu Vineyards ask Napa County for visitor cap boost

The Beaulieu Winery is up for a use permit modification before the Planning Commission on June 6th, 2018. 100 more tasting visitors/day with meals and a tripling of event visitation most meal-centric, 49 more parking spaces. It's a complicated request that not only adds quantities of visitation and parking, but tears down somewhat historic buildings on the site and repurposes the more historic parts. It also involves increasing water consumption by 36,000 gal/day (with no increase in wine production).

More tourism with no increase in production, and the use of wineries as de facto restaurants is a trend happening more and more often in use permit requests. It is a clear indication that the wine industry is no longer about making wine; it's about corporate ownership, branding, marketing, and profit to be made from entertainment experiences. It is a change in the industry that has turned the residents of the county, long supportive of the wine industry for the environment it has preserved, into an adversary as the impacts of a tourism economy begin to degrade the quality of life and the environment that an agricultural economy created.

As one of the county's founding wineries, Beaulieu already has an enormous amount of visitation, 450 people a day - no appointments necessary. Not enough, obviously, from Treasury's standpoint. (Beaulieu is a "brand" owned by the Treasury Wine Estates Corporation which includes Beringer, Etude, Stag's Leap and Stirling in its Napa portfolio.) Another 100 people per day are requested. Plus an increase in event visitation from 3500 to 12800 guests/year. The PBES attitude:
"Although the requested maximum visitation exceeds the average and median of similar production capacity pre-WDO wineries, potential environmental impacts were found to be less significant." As usual.

Its 1.8 million gallons of wine each year are sold at retail outlets throughout the world. Making the case that it needs the tourists to survive, as every "family" winery now does at planning commission hearings, would be a bit disingenuous. It's really about developing another, more profitable business on the property than merely making wine. As each new request throughout the county shows, tourism has become the highest and best use of the land.

Planning Commission agenda and docs
Staff letter to Planning Commission