|Mar 12, 2014|
The Winery Glut
-- County Supervisor Mark Luce, 2015
At the Oct 7th Planning Commission meeting Dir. Morrison presented his latest number crunching on grape harvest, actual wine production and permitted production capacity in the county. The 2014 grape crop was enough for 21 mil gallons of pure Napa wine. As in his previous presentations, only about 18 mil gallons of capacity is currently required to be Napa grapes. Legally he feels that the county is required to allow that additional 3 mil gallons to be permitted in new wineries or winery expansions. The reality is that all Napa grapes are being processed and there is a portion of the Napa grape crop, probably much more than 3 mil gallons, that is now being processed by Napa wineries not required to do so. And the reality is that most of those wineries are unlikely to give up their Napa grape sources. The question is still why keep permitting new and unnecessary wineries and additional capacity, as long as there is already an existing demand for the whole of the Napa crop? The Farm Bureau's Norma Tofanelli dissects some of these numbers here.
At the Aug 11th BOS meeting, Planning Director David Morrison gave the board a presentation on code enforcement and compliance issues (item 9B on the agenda) which included a summary of the tentative provisions of proposal Z unanimously approved at the APAC July 27th meeting. As part of his powerpoint presentation to the Board he included some grape crush statistics based on information received from the TTB which illuminated changes in Napa grape crushing over the years. Three graphs stood out: the number of Napa grapes crushed outside of Napa county has gone from 11% to 26% of the total harvest since 1991. Napa grapes have gone from 67% to 31% of the total grapes crushed in the county since 1991. There is an increase of 27% in Napa grown grapes and an increase of 124% in total grapes crushed since 1991. What is to be made of these numbers? Only that the amount of non-Napa wine being produced in the county is expanding (principally around the airport) while the amount of Napa wine remains somewhat fixed, based on the slow growth of new Napa vineyards.
Planning Director Morrison produced his own numbers (page 32) at the Mar 10th 2015 joint Bos/Pc meeting. His conclusion: 28 mil gallons of wine are produced from napa grapes. Only 18 mil gallons of capacity has been added since 1990 that is required to use napa grapes. There are 118 mil gallons of capacity in the county not required to be from Napa grapes, but 10 mil gallons of which is now being used to process Napa grapes. His implicit and uncomfortable conclusion: Pre-WDO wineries have the right to shift all their pre-WDO production to central valley grapes. And the county has the obligation to approve another 192 more 50,000 gal wineries.
At the joint meeting of the BOS and the Planning Commission on May 20th 2014, the above question was asked by Supervisor Luce to the planning director. It was a monumental question, as much at the heart of the new winery debate as tourism. The planning department has given itself until October to come up with the answer.
While the county may take months, I'm willing to take a stab at it now, because like many other NIMBY's across the county I am facing the brunt of bad planning decisions right now. Projects currently proposed may be cast in concrete by the time October comes around - I can't afford to wait. I preface this by saying that I have no expertise to bring to this analysis and having just begun to look at these issues since finding our about my winery in March, have no insight into the complexity of the issues involved. I will anticipate being labeled a fool (or worse) by people who do have expertise in the area.
As it turns out, Supervisor Luce's question was posed to the planning department in 2012 leading to this staff report presented during this planning commission hearing.
The actual question was:
“1. What are the policy implications if the County has approved enough wineries subject to the 75% rule that the wineries (at maximum production) could use up all of the fruit that is grown in Napa County?"
The 75% rule was created in the WDO of 1990 and requires all capacity created after 1990, new wineries and expansion of existing wineries, to use a minimum of 75% Napa grown grapes.
Based on the staff report graph, the total county permitted capacity of 118,600,000 gals/yr in 2012 would seem to be about 4 times the amount needed to process, according the crop report of 2012, the 29,000,000 gals worth of 75-25% napa wine produced that year. But much of that capacity is exempt from the 75% rule: 26 million g/y of pre 1990 AP/AW capacity is exempt, as are wineries outside of the AP/AW zone (the Bronco winery at the airport is permitted 43,000,000 g/y, one third of all permitted capacity in Napa county).
Only 36 million g/y (the increase in production in the AP/AW zone since 1990 on the chart) is mandated to use napa grapes. That is still much more than the 29 million gallons of 75-25 blend capable of being produced from the 2012 crop. Enough new capacity has been permitted since 1990 to process all napa grapes and then some. But adding to that capacity is that many new wineries use 100% napa grapes and also that much of the 26 million g/y being produced before 1990 was from Napa grapes and it is unlikely that all or even most of that processing has shifted to non-napa grapes. Unfortunately the complexities of tracking pre-WDO wineries ability to shift Napa grapes in and out of their old facilitates makes an estimate of that capacity difficult.
The staff conclusion, perhaps understandable given the conflicting goals of the industry “stakeholders” participating in the review, was that the status quo need not be challenged at this point.
But the staff did produce a statistic of interest in the report: reviewing the Commission hearing agendas (as I did for my winery tourism page) they concluded that 5-7 million gals/yr of capacity subject to the 75% rule were added between 2007 and 2012. (The exact number is difficult to determine because of the source-shifting abilities of pre-WDO wineries.)
But based on the County's crop reports, between 2006 and 2015 the acreage producing Napa grapes has hardly changed. In that same period almost 6 million gallons of new winemaking capacity have been approved in the county,
So while capacity has dramatically increased, no doubt based on the presumed profitability of winery-tourism, the acres of grapes added, whether because of the drought, a turndown in the economy, more concern about water availability, more neighborhood activism, or the previous development of all the easy watershed land, the rate of new vineyard production has leveled off.
The answer to Supervisor Luce's question? It is clear that the permitted capacity within county wineries has exceeded that necessary to process Napa grapes. Given the new-capacity-to-new-vine ratio over the last several years that will remain true for years to come. Whether this reality is hidden or convoluted because a faction wants to maximize the processing of more profitable non-Napa grapes, or because development profiteers want to promote the construction of more tourism facilities, doesn’t change that reality. Adding new capacity (and new land grabbing winery facilities) results in a shift of production (and tourist dollars) from one winery to another resulting in loss of land and resources with great benefit to development interests but little benefit or some actual loss to the agricultural viability of the County.
My policy implication: Stop building new wineries and expanding old ones. If the capacity is there, then rather than approving new wineries and expansions that use up vineyard land being built solely to attract tourists that will further strain the land and water resources of the county (and the peace-of-mind of residents like me), the County should begin to look at the incentives that will encourage wineries with unused or non-Napa capacities to fill that capacity with the fruit of new Napa vineyards.
Another approach would be for the County to begin auctioning new capacity based on the new acreage coming into production each year. Or perhaps the developers of new vineyards would have the option to sell the new capacity their vines would allow. This approach means that a market would be created in new production capacity which, for those believing in market based solutions, might be a good thing. Developers would have an incentive to turn unused or brownfield properties into vineyards.
It does also mean that more pressure would be felt to increase the creation of new acreage, which in turn raises the question of availability of water to supply the new wines and the effect of more water extraction on the aquifer as a whole in an age of global warming. That, of course, is another story.
The Wine Institute statistics page
Map and Tables of use permits approved or still in planning dept since 2010
Planning Dept's 7/1/15 statistical analysis of permitted visitation and capacity
District 4 Historical Grape Crush Data
County Winery Database chart
Winery Audit Results 2013
Winery Audit Results 2012
Winery Audit Results 2011
Staff Report on Capacity 2013
PC Hearing on Capacity
Winery Capactiy Chart 2012
County Crop Reports
Economic Impact of Wine and Grapes 2012
My own capacity tables for projects approved since 2010
NVR 7/8/17: Napa County eyes streamlining approval process for smaller wineries
NVR Editors 1/26/13: Our View: Winery ordinance powder keg needs defusing
NVR 1/26/13: Grape source rules divide wine industry
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