SodaCanyonRoad | A remote winery ordinance?

A remote winery ordinance?

Bill Hocker | Oct 12, 2018 on: Tourism Issues

Soda Canyon before the fire

Update 10/12/18
Item 10A at this coming Oct 16th 2018 meeting of the Board of Supervisors: "Director of Planning Building and Environmental Services (PBES) requests confirmation of direction on proposed winery compatibility measures."

Previously referred to more descriptively as "direction on the adoption of an ordinance regarding remote wineries" this discussion came as a bit of a surprise to all concerned at the Aug 14 2018 meeting of the BOS. This is the most significant attempt to look at runaway winery development since the failed effort by APAC. The industry stakeholders showed up just in time to express their consternation that this process hadn't been vetted through them prior to its introduction to the board.

While efforts to curb the continuing development of wineries in the watershed areas of the county were proposed and then curtailed in the APAC process, (with opposition led by the wine industry that wanted evaluation only on a case by case basis under existing WDO rules rather than new proscriptive ordinances) two events have changed the dynamic in looking at the issue: 1. the Oct 2017 fire that laid bare the dangers to health and safety (and perhaps county liability) in the industry's effort to bring ever more tourists into the county's remote areas, and 2. the narrow defeat of the Watershed Protection ordinance that brought to light not only public concern over the protection of water resources but was, in fact, a referendum on the continued development of the watersheds for commercial use of any kind.

This meeting is only an initial step in looking at the issue again post-APAC. The stakeholders will no doubt be more prepared this time to offer input. Hopefully the community, seeking to push back against the tide of ever expanding development will also be there.

Update 9/28/18
NVR 9/28/18: Napa County scrutinizing surge of wineries off the beaten track
George Caloyannidis remote winery considerations

"To insure that the intensity of winery activities is appropriately scaled, the County considers the remoteness of the location and the amount of wine to be produced at a facility when reviewing use permit proposals, and endeavors to ensure a direct relationship between access constraints and on-site marketing and visitation programs"

As an addendum to changes made to the Winery Definition Ordinance in 2010 to allow more winery tourism, the BOS adopted some interpretive guidance, including the paragraph above, acknowledging that remote wineries need additional consideration when it comes to tourism activities.

At the BOS meeting on Tues Sep 25, 2018, PBES is requesting direction on a proposed remote winery ordinance which might give more specificity to the meaning of the remote winery guidance.
The BOS Agenda is here.
The staff letter regarding this issue is here.

The issue of remoteness was central to our argument against the Mountain Peak winery proposed for our neighborhood at the end of Soda Canyon Road. Unfortunately, we failed to convince Planning Commissioners and Supervisors that hosting 14,000 people each year for food and drinks was a bad idea 6 miles up a winding dead end road. But as more and more wineries and winery expansions are proposed or approved in the watersheds, adding tens of thousands of visitors to other remote neighborhoods each year, and with some recent insight about the dangers of wildfires in remote areas, there seems to be a renewed desire to put some teeth into the interpretive guidance. Thank Goodness.

The impacts of real agriculture (the "right-to-farm" issues that property owners in Napa County acknowledge) in remote communities is part of living in rural Napa. The impacts of wine tourism, however, are intrusive and destructive of that rural character, and are at the heart of the resistance of residents to the approval of winery construction and the re-definition of "agriculture" to include tourism.

Removing visitation from winery proposals in remote locations will not only remove the conflict between residents and winemakers, but will help insure that wineries are appropriately sized and being built as needed processing facilities rather than expressions of vanity or a desire to create entertainment venues.

I would encourage the Supervisors to severely limit, or outright ban, visitation in any remote winery ordinance.

Taking aim at another issue involving remote wineries (directly applicable to Soda Canyon Road but probably triggered by the denied Oakville Winery), Supervisor Pedroza sent out this email request for input from community members at the meeting:

"The BOS will be discussing Rural Wineries on Tuesday.

Background: In remote areas like Atlas Peak Rd, Soda Canyon Rd, Mt. Veeder, etc, we've had some winery proposals that are completely custom crush facilities, no vineyards on site.

Problem: Wineries in remote, rural areas, that have no fruit, will need to bring in fruit, meaning more traffic, than a normal winery, on a rural road network.

Discussion: require an estate component on wineries in rural/remote (will need to define rural/remote)? For example, if you're going to do a winery on Soda Canyon Road, a requirement might be that you be at minimum 10% estate (requiring you to have some vineyards).

My take: I think if you're going to have a winery, especially in rural areas, you should have some level of vineyards. Also, with the growth of the Corporate Park and Airport Park, that area seems better suited for custom crush activities. I recognize most wineries, if not all, bring in fruit from different vineyards, areas, so there needs to be some flexibility to bring in fruit, which is why I think the % should be on the lower side for rural wineries."

Soda Canyon has two wineries, Relic and The Caves at Soda Canyon, up steep winding driveways with no grapes on the properties. Despite residents having raised the issue of being a grape-less custom crush facility during their last Planning Commission hearing, The Caves was nonetheless granted a doubling of their capacity in 2017 (in addition to the exoneration of their illegal construction of a viewing portal through the ridgeline).

Grape sourcing has become a bigger issue at Planning Commission meetings of late. Relic and the Caves represent the great pitfall of granting approvals based on a "contracted" source of grapes. While I don't know for sure, it is likely that that Relic and The Caves relied on some of the Stagecoach grapes from the top of Soda Canyon Road. The sale of Stagecoach to Gallo last year will probably mean the end of many contracts leaving smaller wineries competing for alternative, and perhaps more distant, sources. Contracted grapes should not be used to justify use permit approvals. Use permits run with the land forever; grape contracts can disappear overnight.

The Mountain Peak owner purchased another vineyard property on the Rector plateau to help justify the 100,000 gal/yr production capacity they were proposing. While that is a substantial commitment and helped justify such a large production capacity on a 40 acre site, non-estate sources used to justify permit approvals, even if owned by the applicant, are only modestly more secure than a grape contract. Mountain Peak may sell the property at any time (perhaps to finance the winery construction) to another owner wishing to build their own 100,000 gal winery.

In the remote areas of the county wineries should be allowed to process the grapes on the property for which the use permit is given. But production capacity beyond what the property can supply will always open the potential for a custom crush operation. In future approvals for remote wineries, the production limit should be, perhaps, 125% of the amount that the property's grapes can generate to allow for some remote component. Entrepreneurs with production ambitions beyond that limit should be relegated, at this point in the progression of Napa winery development, to the industrial areas of the county.

Bill Hocker - Sep 24, 2018 7:57PM

Dan Mufson’s comment to the Supervisors:

Alfredo, I think asking for a winery that has no adjacent vineyard in the AWOS is ridiculous and greedy. Why should we allow forcing an industrial operation into the watershed? Why truck grapes up the hill, why truck glass up the hill, why truck wine bottles down the hill, why transport people up and down the hill? What about the climate impact of all of this energy use?

I must say, that cutting down forests in our watersheds to plant grapes is harmful to the citizens of Napa County. These citizens, and especially those who live in cities, made it clear by their support of Measure C, that they want their watersheds protected.

If you were to visit some of the areas where permits are being asked for you would see that these are not Ag lands. They will require massive energy expenditures to blow up rocks. The Best and Highest use of these lands is for watersheds. The municipal water supplies depend upon pure water coming down the hills to the reservoirs.

Others such as George Caloyannidis, have sent you their thoughts about the safety issues that would result from winery-visitation centers on remote mountain roads. Surely after the Atlas Fire where 6 people died we need to seriously consider how to protect our citizens. With more and more wineries promoting their food [pairing] we are seeing the birth of winery-restaurants. We do not need, nor want, these on remote mountain roads.

As you will see when the results of the Strategic Planning are available that most citizens want you to consider changing the definition of AWOS to Watershed/Open Space/Ag.

Patricia Damery’s comment to the Supervisors:

Dear Supervisor Dillon,

I write in response to the September 25 hearing on a possible Remote Winery Ordinance. I have been increasingly concerned for our environment and the health and safety of our population as remote areas are deforested for vineyards, wineries, and centers for commercial activities— the monetization of our beautiful, fragile hillsides.

I am not against vineyards and wineries; my husband and I grow grapes and we support small winemakers who know their craft and work to live in balance with our watersheds and so-called wild lands. However, Napa Valley’s successes have brought in outside investors, many corporate, who care more about profit than what their efforts are doing to our mountains, water supply, and the citizen base.

To this end, I celebrate a careful look at the carrying capacity of our “remote” areas, those areas that are served by driveways and rural roads designed and built for residential traffic. I want to address particularly Dry Creek Road, one of the roads Mr. Morrison designates as a “local roadway” providing access to homes and businesses and on which there is a great deal of concern about the permitting of more wineries, particularly larger ones in excess of 20,000 gallons, and with visitation.

Our ranch was bisected by Dry Creek Road when the road bed was changed many years ago. Our well on a triangular piece of land is across the road from the rest of the ranch. Crossing the road on foot is a dangerous proposition. You have to listen for any sound of possible oncoming traffic as cars are on you before you see them. We have had accidents in front of the small house at the road, one tragic accident resulting in the death of a next door neighbor riding her horse. (The sad stimulus for the Herman neurology building at the Queen). Bicyclists and walkers frequent the road. The possibility of more traffic from possible winery projects nearby increases this danger. This is not a road to allow large winery projects with visitation and large events.

We know of at least two applications for large gallonage and visitation asking for increased gallonage, visitation, and large events. An ordinance that considers the facts on the ground of Dry Creek Road is one that would save all of us a great deal of time and money, including the applicants. Mr. Morrison’s addressing the needs of various locations is an important one. When an AW application comes in asking for an increase to 50,000 gallons and 15,000 visitors a year, plus several large events, and the median permitted production in the Ag Watershed is 20,000, and 1,800 visitors a year, a lot of work is settled. We need to consider the needs of the environment and location. Applicants can then make their business plan based on this. Perhaps direct marketing belongs on the internet and in our cities.

We also have downtown business property in Napa. Our restaurant space has been vacant a year now, we are told because of labor shortages and because of the “restaurants” in the remote and ,yes, beautiful vistas of our hillsides and Ag watersheds. An ordinance would protect not only our hillside but also perhaps the businesses of our cities.

Thank you for your attention to this.