A remote winery ordinance?
on the web at: http://sodacanyonroad.org/forum.php?p=1939
Bill Hocker | Oct 12, 2018


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

9/20/18
"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.

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