On Mar 15th, 2017 Raymond Vineyards was given a use permit modification by the Napa County Planning Commission to recognize and allow permit violations that have gone back years, as well as allowing an expansion of their tourism facilities. The decision was appealed by neighbors. The Board of Supervisors denied the appeal on Aug 15th, 2017.
The Raymond use permit modification is the poster child for two trends that have become significant and contentious issues between the wine industry, the county government and county residents in the last few years: 1. the transformation of the wine production industry into a tourism entertainment industry, and 2. the disregard by winery owners of the use permit conditions of approval under which they must operate.
The use permit modification has pitted Raymond's owner, the flamboyant good-life entrepreneur Jean-Charles Boisset, against his next-door neighbor, mega-grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer, in a symbolic battle for the soul of Napa County. As has happened in countless, but increasingly intense, planning commission battles over these last years, the forces for more tourism development have won over the preservation of Napa's agricultural heritage, and a few more acres of vines are to be paved over for buildings and roads and parking lots meant for tourism use.
Chair Ramos went on at length on the virtue of separating the issue of compliance from requests for expansion, something she felt the county really needed to pursue. "The time has come..." she repeated. Just not this time, of course.
Often at these hearings speakers talk rhetorically of a "turning point". This decision represents the road we've turned on to. Tourism has trumped agriculture in the philosophical debate represented by two iconic and opposing figures in Napa's wine industry. Sup. Pedrosa, in justifying his decision to deny the appeal, said of Raymond "This is not Disneyland. I think this is just agriculture in the 21st century." Wine tourism "experiences" are now the official product of Napa Valley and the actual wine, as has always been the case in other endeavors, is used simply to loosen the purse strings.
The vote on the appeal divided the three newly elected supervisors from the two veterans. It was a poignant and, for those of us who have come to appreciate how difficult protection of the county's rural legacy's been for previous generations of supervisors, a sad vote.
The Raymond-Ticen appeal will be heard by the Board of Supervisors on Aug 15th. It will be interesting to see if the Supervisors split their decision along the lines of their Planning Commissioners. Given the players, it is truly a showcase, as Sup. Pedroza has framed it in various discussions, for a "difference in philosophies" about the future of Napa County. What does agricultural protection mean? Do we protect every vine or do we pull some out to accommodate tourism? Is the future to be an agricultural economy that benefits from tourism or a tourism economy that capitalizes on agriculture? Or perhaps capitalizes on an agricultural history?
Norma Tofanelli has weighed in on the potential of non-compliance forgiveness presented egregiously by this project, by citing a letter by Michael Honig regarding the Bremer project.
In the three and half years that this site has been up there have been appeals on the following wineries: Woolls Ranch [5-0], Yountville Hill [pulled], Castellucci [5-0], Melka [2-2], Reverie[5-0], Bell [5-0], Girard [5-0], Mountain Peak [4-0], Raymond [3-2], Caves at Soda Canyon, Flynnville, and on the non-winery projects Walt Ranch [5-0], Syar[5-0, 4-1, 5-0, 4-1], and on the pre-PC reviews Caymus [5-0] and Cuvasion.
Save Yountville Hill which is being redesigned, all thus far have been denied allowing the projects to proceed.
On Mar 15th 2017 the County Planning Commission, after years of presentations, approved modifications to the Raymond Winery use permit. It has been a tortured process involving the recognition and allowance of years of permit violations, the clash of two iconically different players in the valley, and the impacts of the subordination of wine making to wine marketing in the economy.
The use permit application has pitted Raymond's owner, the flamboyant good-life entrepreneur Jean-Charles Boisset, against his next-door neighbor, mega-grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer, in a symbolic battle for the soul of Napa County. As has happened in countless, but increasingly intense, planning commission battles over these last years, the forces for more tourism development have won over the preservation of Napa's agricultural heritage, and a few more acres of vines get paved over for buildings and roads and parking lots.
This is the second Raymond proposal to come before the Commission. The first in 2014 ran into concerted opposition not just from Beckstoffer, but also residents on Zinfandel Lane faced with ever increasing traffic to the winery. The proposal was dropped after 2 continued hearings. Beckstoffer continued to challenge Raymond on non-compliance independently of the use permit request.
Raymond defused Zinfandel Lane opposition in this second project by buying an adjacent property, giving the winery direct access to Hwy 29 and dividing the service, visitation and employee traffic load into two access points. It also added another entertainment venue to the complex. It was apparently enough to placate residents of Zinfandel Lane who did not turn out for this meeting, although it did rile the residents of problematic Whitehall Lane junction just across Hwy 29 from the new Raymond driveway.
Mr. Beckstoffer was not assuaged by the new proposal, and, although he did not make the impassioned defense of the ag preserve that he has made in previous hearings, his lawyer made a CEQA-esque presentation in preparation for the appeal and, no doubt, court challenge ahead. The commissioners voted 3 - 2 to approve. Comms. Basayne, Scott and Gill seem to be reliable pro-development backers so far this year. Comms. Gallagher and Cottrell seem to be taking the position that where there's controversy on projects extra concern must be given to the negative impacts. I wish that all of the commissioners were willing to make the effort to balance the lives of impacted residents, the potential future impacts on the rural character of the county and on the integrity of the concept of the Ag Preserve, against the increased profits of individual applicants. (Comm Cottrell in her dissent made a strong argument against the precedence of "recognizing and allowing" non-compliance that this project embodies.)
As reported in the NVR article, Comm. Scott repeated a statement often used in these hearings to justify pumping up winery tourism:
"The marketing of wine has changed dramatically and direct-to-consumer sales and relationships are what create wine club members and purchasers of wine. Frankly, I don't think a lot of our wineries would survive without the marketing events they need to establish those customer relationships."
Given the impact that this assertion is having on the number of tourist venues being proposed and approved in the county, and the impact that the increased tourism will have on our resources, environment, infrastructure, and the rural quality of life that is the hallmark of the county, someone should be asking if tourism is really necessary to the survival of the wine industry. What percentage of the wine industry is dependent on at-winery sales to survive? Why are so many wineries able to survive with very little or no winery visitation? Isn't it only new entrepreneurs, who must poach customers from established brands for the finite quantity of Napa wine available, that must rely on d-t-c tourism marketing because they are too small to be distributed? Are those new brands simply being approved because they increase the tourism draw to the county? Are there other methods to promote the sale of high-end wines besides the destructive invasion of mass-market tourism into the county?
Of course, Raymond is not a startup needing the tourist trade to kept it afloat in post 3-tier world. It is a mature and successful business acting on the reality that there is more money to be made in entertainment than wine. The Ag Preserve was created in the knowledge that there are many enterprises more profitable than making wine, and that controls were necessary if an agricultural economy were to survive. Raymond has flouted those rules to increase profits. And several acres of prime Rutherford acreage has been lost to roads and parking lots needed for its several tourism venues. Tourism, and the urbanization necessary for its success, is hardly less a threat to agriculture now than the housing business was in the 1970's. The dissenting commissioners were right not to recognize, allow and increase the changes that Raymond has requested.
I am Geoff Ellsworth, speaking as a resident of St. Helena. I have concerns regarding cumulative impacts from after-the-fact approvals such as this. Impacts including traffic, greenhouse gasses, safety issues on our roadways and water uses. I believe not addressing the impacts from overages is unfair to our citizens and also is detrimental to our democratic process. To issustrate this I'll make the point that while citizens had a chance to weigh in on the original permitted levels, they had no chance to weigh in on the unpermitted overages and the associated impacts. By allowing after-the-fact approvals we lose all undrstanding of what kind of impacts we are trully looking at. Particularly when looked at cumulatively with other overages we're seeing around the county.
I believe a proper compliance and enforcement program must be in place before we continue with further approvals so that we can start to get an understanding of what type of impacts we are truly dealing with, the effects on our community and also to prevent the further escalation of overages
-we need a system to verify visitation numbers.
- regarding the WDO the policy that food service revenue is limited to cost recovery only, we need a system in place to verify this.
- also we need a water monitoring system - where the use is capped based on the permit and metered - to make sure that everybody is honoring our honor system.
One thing that is becoming clear - democracy is an honor system. In order to protect our democratic process we as citizens must stand up to insure the rules are adhered to, rules set in place to protect our community.
Here is my comment I posted on the article at the Register:
My, My, My, what a nice event center and a great production, but a bit more extravagant than the City Winery in the Napa Opera House. Of course this is an agricultural use of the property and the event's sole purpose is to Market Raymond Wines?? Is every Neighbor living on Zinfandel Lane pleased to be living next to this wonderful exposition as they attempt to Market their Wine. Raise your hand if you want to buy a property next door or across the street! Certainly your property values will skyrocket with each event! Raymond is a pre WDO Winery and is allowed to do these events (if they did such before 1990 when the Winery Definition Ordinance was passed by the Napa County Board of Supervisors). If you want to voice your opinion about wineries and events such as this, come to the Joint Meeting of the NC Board of Supervisors and the NC Planning Commission on Tuesday, March 10, at the Napa High School Auditorium, 2425 Jefferson St, Napa City, 9:45 am. Be entertained. Gary Margadant
Andy Beckstoffer, in defense of his neighborhood, has produced an eloquent statement of the county's obligation to protect communities against the impacts of tourist facilities that goes well beyond Zinfandel Lane. It is here.
The planning commission will once again take up the request for substantial increases in Raymond Winery's marketing plan. This project, like the Yountville Hill Winery, is a cause célèbre in the ongoing transfer from an agricultural into a tourism economy in Napa County. More célèbre than most because it is truly a battle of the titans of the wine world, and of the competing visions of Napa's future, with neighbor mega-grapegrower and preservationist Andy Beckstoffer against mega-vintner and bon-vivant Jean-Charles Boisset. The agenda is here
This is just the kind of large increases in tourism that the WDO discussion at the Board level is beginning to look at.
At the PC hearing yesterday concerning the use-permit modification for the Raymond Winery marketing expansion on Zinfandel Lane, next door neighbor Andy Beckstoffer gave an eloquent statement of his position that relates to all residents being affected by these projects.