APAC #3 Report
Bill Hocker | May 11, 2015
NVR: Committee cool to 40-acre winery parcel minimum
APAC #3 Minutes
The various members of the APAC made their first position statements at meeting #3 of the committee. Some of those proposals are here and here and here. Ted Hall, chairman of the committee, had asked that participants weight in on 3 topics in their position paper: 1. requirement for changed minimum parcel size. 2. requirement to stop vineyard loss by development. and 3. requirements on the use of estate grapes.
The responses made by the committee (not all of which are in the proposal pdf's above) were reviewed and tabulated by Mr. Hall and presented in a table that tried to sort the responses into 5 different categories ranging roughly from no changes to 40 acre minimum with additional conditions. It was a valiant effort to stay within the fixed parameter discussions that Dir. Morrison has laid out for these discussions. Near the end a straw poll of the committee was taken to see which side members would come down on: keep 10 acres (8 in favor) or go to 40 acres (6 in favor), 1 (or 3) abstain. But given the range of conditionals in each proposal few seemed sure how committed their vote was. Not on the table, of course, was the 'no new winery' approach advocated by Sup. Luce ( and anybody else really concerned about "agricultural protection"). IMHO, the most thoroughly thought out of the proposals was from non-committee members Walt and Bernadette Brooks, of Brooks Family Vineyrds, proposal L here and deserves specific discussion.
Also not discussed was how changing the the minimum parcel size would protect agriculture. The implicit understanding was that 4500 wineries could be built on properties of 10 acres or more versus 2000 wineries on parcels of 40 acres or more. Do you want more or fewer wineries? But since at most 10 new wineries per year are being proposed it seems unlikely that one minimum or the other will make a difference. Especially since most of the new wineries are proposed by the mega wealthy somewhat unconcerned about the cost of that additional 30 acres.
Little discussion was given to estate grape requirement. The important question of what constitutes the estate was asked and the opinion was voiced that it was understood to include long term (again undefined) grape contracts as well as all properties owned by the winery owner. A very loose definition indeed. (The official definition is here.) Almost no discussion went to vineyard loss, which was dismissed under the weight of Morrison's conclusion that 1 acre had been lost in the valley for every 10 acres gained in the hillsides. No problem paving over the valley floor with a ratio like that.
One dynamic taking place is the coalition of young vintners that is defending the 10 acre minimum, represented by Harvest Duhig, Graham McDonald and others in one of the letters here. The word dream and the concept of the small, family winery were invoked often. Their dream unfortunately aligns with the status-quo-is-good-for-tourism attitude represented by Visit Napa Valley rep Stanley Boyd. The what-about-the-little-guy rhetoric brings up images of politicians sanitizing the interests of their corporate sponsers. One reaction from a skeptic: give a property a use permit, no matter how restricted, and future requests will turn it into a tourism event center. Time will tell, but I hope this group is a throwback to the founding ethos of the ag preserve - people committed to their craft as wine makers and willing to forgo maximizing profits and the tourism centric direction that threatens the resources upon which agriculture depends.
The "Napa Brand" was brought up several times in the conversation. Everyone seems to know what that means, and the term seems to bolster everyone's argument. But a discussion about defining and then maintaining the "Napa Brand" was also not part of the agenda. The comparison of the Napa Brand to that of Bordeaux or Burgandy was brought up by one of the growers, and recalled to my mind the Dan McFadden letter presented at the Mar 10th joint BOS/PC meeting. His analysis of the "big picture" confronting the Napa Brand and the future that we would all like to see is the most convincing advanced so far.
In a public comment Ginny Simms asked the committee to conduct their discussions by identifying the problems and working down to the solutions instead of proposing solutions in a vacuum. Seems pretty sensible. But the protection of agriculture in Napa county is dependent on solving problems that go beyond the narrow focus on metrics by this committee, indeed on decisions about a trajectory of urban development that is only partially related to the wine industry. One aspect of that urban development is the growth of the tourism industry that feeds on and will eventually consume the wine industry. Limiting that exploitation may help, and preventing the encroachment of that industry into the vineyards should be, at least, the top goal of this committee.
If tourism were eliminated from the definition of a winery, most of the winery proposals in the pipeline, who's reason to be is the potential for tourism profits or the allure of an ostentatious display of wealth, would simply disappear. The questions of parcel size, estate grapes, and vineyard loss would depend on the economic decisions based on the need to process grapes, and given the surplus capacity already existing (even if Dir. Morison wishes to deny it) , the number of use permits requested would crash. Without tourism as a cover it would also be more difficult for the pre-WDO wineries to shift Napa grapes to new tanks so they can process more central valley grapes in the old.
The long term survival of an agricultural economy requires the recognition that urban growth, which may be seen as a sign of prosperity and jobs in non-agricultural economies, and is definitely promoted as such by governments and entrepreneurs alike, means the ultimate demise of an agricultural economy. That is the real discussion that we need to have.
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