SodaCanyonRoad | Vida Valiente Winery

Vida Valiente Winery
Bill Hocker | May 1, 2024 on: The Winery Glut

Update 5/1/24
NVR 5/1/24: Napa County planners deny controversial Vida Valiente winery application
Video of 5/1/24 Planning Commission Meeting

Following the supervisors denial of the Le Colline Vineyard project, the denial of this project will again have the business community up in arms: an entrepreneur has spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars doing everything the county required to get a an approval and yet it was still denied.

It has been 10 years since Walt Ranch and Mountain Peak jarred some Napa residents into realizing that the continued economic growth of Napa county's wine industry, through tourism urbanization and woodland deforestation, was beginning to have negative impacts on the county's quality of life and the health of its environment. The continual stream of new projects in the development pipeline since has brought the realization home to ever more people that the future that is permitted under the current general plan is not the future that many residents want to happen. That disconnect is being reflected in the changing composition of the Board of Supervisors and is being reflected in decisions in the hear and now.

It is not fair to the developers, of course, and these two decisions will probably be appealed or litigated and the rejections may be overturned. But the importance of these rejections now is that they signal to potential developers (and county staff) that the county's attitude toward continued development of existing vineyards and wildlands is changing. The bar for approval in the future will be higher.

Update 4/19/24
Vida Valiente will again be before the Planning Commission on 5/1/24. The revised conditions of approval don't seem to have changed much beyond closure on red flag days. I don't think the road access conditions have changed.

Update 12/7/23
NVR 12/7/23: Napa County has lively debate over Vida Valiente winery
Video of 12/6/23 PC meeting

The project was continued to a date uncertain. With Comm. Heather Phillips recused, the potential vote was stuck at 2-2 (meaning denial) with Comms. Dameron and Brunzell opposed due to the fire dangers presented by sub-standard Crystal Springs Road access, and Comms. Whitmer and Mazotti willing to forego those concerns with assurances from the Napa Fire Marshall, acknowledging that the applicant had complied with all the rules that county had laid down in a 5 year process. The applicant, upset with what he viewed as a capricious use of discretion to deny the project, asked for a continuance which the Commissioners unanimously agreed to.

I have some sympathy for developers who have relied on a county bureaucracy to weave through (and sometimes warp) the letter of complex land use law only to find, what with fires, drought, global warming and resident opposition to the endless stream of deforestation projects and tourist attractions, the politicians who make these discretionary decisions are beginning to chart a different path forward, one that gives less importance to development and more to conservation. Staff should probably be more proactive when working with applicants to encourage that upcoming vision. Unfortunately the fact that county staff continues to insist that sub-standard roads do not need to be improved to provide access to new development in fire zones, contrary to the clear intention of the State's Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (see pg. 6 here), acknowledges their development-will-not-be-hindered-by-our-dangerous-roads bias.

I hadn't looked at the graphics before. The project would be quite an eyesore in its remote neighborhood. Lots of glass walls to flood the night with light pollution. Modernist forms and a green-roof dome aspirationally screaming "I am architcture!" Nothing "napaesque" here. A modest capacity production facility that should be housed in one building is spread over the entire width of the property in three outsized buildings two of which, along with a swooping bridge and extensive strolling garden with amphitheater and stage are all devoted to tourism. The applicant's rep, Donna Oldford, seemed embarrassed by the rendering, saying that what it shows would not be built, and asking people to look at the plans instead. The plans, though, show the same large windows, self-conscious architecture, unnecessary bridge and stage-centered garden all sprawling across the site.

Another new wine-themed tourist attraction is being proposed in a remote location in the eastern watershed somewhat north of the road to Angwin. It will be coming up before the Planning Commission on Dec 6, 2023.

The Vida Valiente Winery will produce up to 30,000 gal/yr in a new 17722 sf winery building with an additional 13,675 sf of caves. The initial proposal is for 10 parking spaces, 7 employees, and 7246 vis/yr, marketing events until 10pm. The project is laid out in the Staff Agenda Letter here.

As with our revoked Mountain Peak project, there are many concerns from neighbors facing the sacrifice of a prized rural isolation to one more person's dream of becoming a wine impresario. Those concerns have been articulately enumerated by neighbor Larry Vermeulen in this neighbor's letter to the Planning Commission.

Also like Mountain Peak, the site presents a real fire danger to residents and tourists alike inherent in its constrained access in a very high fire severity zone. Everything on the road burned in 2020. The project is on a loop off the Silverado Trail. Coming from the south by way of Deer Park Rd, the route is a 2 mile stretch that that varies in width from 12 to 18 feet in width. The 1+ mile of the road coming from the north is 16 to 24 feet in width. Both it seems do not meet the County's Road and Street Standards. The applicant has made the argument that the longer access from the north will be promoted as the proper way to get to the winery. Google Maps disagrees. (see map).

George Caloyannidis, who has property in the area, has presented the case that access to the site does not meet Napa County Road and Street Standards (or the State Fire Safe Regulations.) He presents his case in these letters to the Planning Commission

The project again raises the question of whether it is wise to continue to approve the urban development of the watersheds with unnecessary vanity winery projects that increase fire danger, increase deforestation and water consumption, generate GHG-producing vehicle trips (bicycle racks won't help) and induce further GHG-producing population growth in direct opposition to the county's more pressing desire to do what it can to ease Napa's contribution to global warming.

Project Documents