Update 1/8/19The continued Planning Commission hearing for the Anthem Winery was to take place Jan 16, 2019 but has been continued to a date uncertain and will be renoticed 1/16/19 agenda and documents here.
Update 10/3/18After 3 hours of presentation and public comment the Commissioners sought additional work by Staff to review and address the many concerns raised. The hearing was continued to Dec 5, 2018 [now Jan 16, 2018]. (The Davis Winery marketing, caves and production expansion was approved)
Technically a use permit "modification", it will be, in fact, a newly constructed complex including a new 10,000 sf winery building, 29,000 sf of new caves, a new 1500 sf tasting room, a new 1700 office building, outdoor event spaces, 22 car parking lot, and newly constructed entry drive from Dry Creek Rd. Tours and tastings and events will bring 15500 visitors/yr and 7-12 employees/day.
The site is 3.4 miles from Hwy 29. At 56 proposed trips per day, that amounts to 69495 VMT/yr due of its remote location - almost 3 times around the earth.
The project has been vigorously challenged by neighbors whose enjoyment of their remote rural properties will be destroyed by an event center in their midst. The adoption of tourism as an integral part of the wine Industry has much to do with the current antagonism of residents toward the industry as a whole. In this case it is also another example of neighbors who are themselves farmers and vintners - as happened with Yountville Hill, Girard, Raymond, Melka, B-Cellars and others - coming forward, not in opposition to a neighbor's right to farm and process their crop, but their right to create a tourism entertainment venue. Tourism may be defined as agriculture in the pro-development dogma of wine industry stakeholder groups and in the County ordinances that they have crafted, but in the real world, tourism is not agriculture - especially when it shows up next door. If only more farmers would act on the real possibility that an event center will eventually be their neighbor, the county might return to a more realistic definition of agriculture.
The Anthem project involves a road exception for the entry drive constraints, setback variances from the private drive, a viewshed ordinance regulation because of its visibility on the hill, and the removal of 130 trees. As was the case with the nearby Woolls Ranch winery, the project involves the contested use (commercial vs residential) of an easement over a neighbor's property. It raises once again the issue of water availability in the western watershed, having had to truck in water for a couple of years, also the case with the Woolls Ranch vineyard. It also raises the issue of remotely located custom crush facilities, with only a small percentage of its 50,000 gallons coming from grapes on the property. And then there is the dispute with another neighbor over the clearing of a woodland preservation easement between their properties. Finally, some events will be allowed until the trend-setting hour of midnight. The project pushes the boundaries of every norm.
Given the continued expansion of wineries into the watershed areas of the county, numerous projects have come before the Planning Commission asking for variances and exceptions to county ordinances to make the projects feasible in the hilly terrain. The ordinances were enacted specifically to recognize that some locations are not appropriate for building projects in order to maintain the rural and natural beauty that has been one of the county's principal assets. Unfortunately, the County, under pressure from a never-ending tide of profit- and ego-driven entrepreneurs, continues to approve projects requiring such exceptions to exist. And a rural landscape, protected by a previous generation of civic leaders and responsible stakeholders, is slowly being diminished as a consequence.
The Oct 3rd Planning Commission will also hear the Davis Estates Winery request for a large expansion in capacity, facility size and visitation numbers located on the Silverado Trail. Between the 2 wineries, 37,000 new visitation slots per year will be created, adding to population increase and the urbanization needed to accommodate it.
There are approximately 140 new wineries or expansions that have been approved since 2010 that will add some 1.8 million visitor slots. Another 30 are in the planning pipeline seeking to add 260,000 more visitor slots. Of those already approved, few have been built and their visitors and employees and the traffic they generate and the need for infrastructure, services and housing that they will create have not yet added to the impacts of urbanization that we already feel.
These wineries also represent an increase in permitted production capacity of 6+ million gallons/year. According to crop reports, the number of producing acres of vines has only grown by about 1000 acres in the last decade, barely enough for 1 million gallons of new production capacity. Many new wineries, like Anthem, will be used principally to process off site grapes that are undoubtedly being processed elsewhere now. Their wine will add little to Napa's overall wine output. Their real product is wine tasting experiences and the events they will host. These wineries would probably not be built were it not for their tourism function, a fact that Anthemís owner quantified in her letter to APAC.
In 2014, when we first found out about the event center proposed for the property next to us, it was already obvious that winery construction to serve a tourism economy was distorting the concept of agriculture as being the highest and best use of the land. It is now past time to decide that there are enough wineries already, enough boxes littering the landscape, and begin to use the county's discretion to deny those whose reason to exist is little more than the dream of owning a winery of one's own and the wealth to realize it; in particular those wineries that must stretch every ordinance and antagonize every neighbor to accommodate that realization.