Subscribe to the Napa Valley Register Please note that this site relies heavily on the reporting and the letters-to-the-editor in the Napa Valley Register. I would encourage you to subscribe here if you really wish to follow what is going on in Napa County - and to make sense of my blog. The cost is nominal compared to the major dailies, and, unlike them, the Register contains news and views that are simply unavailable elsewhere. (Also note this is not an ad: I'm sure the NVR could care less about sodacanyonroad.org)
Aug 21, 2014
The dilemma that Napa County faces is the stated intention in its General Plan to preserve Napa as an agricultural economy in the face of continuous development pressure. In 1990 they made their task more difficult by defining wineries, and especially the tourist uses to which they can be put, as part to of the agricultural process, permitting, and essentially entitling, commercial development on agricultural land if the definition is met. The discretion is only over the size of the facility and the number of tourists to be accommodated. The tourist development industry has continued to press that opening in creating ever more tourist "experiences" within the winery, and in 2010 with the addition of food service to tastings and business meetings to marketing events created a potential profitability model that is threatening to turn all vineyard lands into tourist wineries. A template for the conversion of a natural resource into a tourist attraction is outlined in the 1980 Butler Report. Napa is well on its way.
On May 20th, 2014 a joint meeting was held between the Napa Board of Supervisors and the Napa Planning Commission to begin anew its periodic discussion on the future of the county. Out of that discussion the new Planning Director, David Morrison, was tasked with looking at the current state of winery development versus agricultural preservation that has been at the heart of discussion about the county's future since the creation of the historic agricultural preserve in 1968. On August 19th he proposed to the supervisors that a community forum be convened in mid-November 2014 (held in Mar 2015) to discuss the Winery Definition Ordinance, the document that establishes the relationshuip between the two, to be followed by a task force that would propose changes to the ordinance to establish development guidelines for future development. (The APAC meetings that were held as a result are documented here.)
While our effort on this site has been to get to this point, and while we will continue to press the case for change, it is time to begin considering not what is ailing but what should be prescribed. It is time to begin thinking about possible ideas to bring to a discussion regarding the future of Napa County. Modifications to the WDO may be one of these ideas but there are others.
As in the past, changes to the WDO will be mostly the result of a consensus among the major "stakeholders" of the county, the Napa County Farm Bureau, the Napa Grapegrowers, the Napa Valley Vintners and the Winegrowers of Napa Valley. But there should also be participation of the other stakeholders, the tourism industry, the development and real-estate industry, the urban and rural workforces, and of course the residents, the "citizen stakeholders" as Geoff Ellsworth calls them, that have had a significant role in pushing for this change.
I will try to use this page to propose and highlight potential solutions to help maintain the agricultural economy that is so unique here. There will probably be little objectivity in the proposals; this site represents a group of residents wishing only to enjoy the rural and agrarian life that the county currently affords.
Some ideas will be far-fetched; others may be somewhat sensible. The important thing is to get them out there for thought and discussion. You are invited to share your proposals as well. The numbers are just the order of posting and don't represent any ranking.
This all seems to be going in the right direction, increasing the visibility, market and charity clout of Napa wines without increasing the carbon footprint and other deleterious impacts of wine tourism.
Update 8/21/20Paul Mabray, the online wine sales evangelist, made another presentation to the Napa County Planning Commission on 8/19/20. It is the way forward in creating a viable wine industry that doesn't depend on the environmentally and culturally destructive use of tourism as a marketing vehicle. Will the County or the wine industry listen?
This site was born out of the threat of proposed winery tourist attraction on the vineyard next to us at the very remote end of Soda Canyon Road. It was just one example the impact that tourism is having on all who live in Napa County. The basic argument of all of the articles here over the last 6 years is that tourism is bad for the maintenance of an economy based on agriculture and for the survival of a rural, small town lifestyle. Tourism development is an urbanizing process. More buildings are built for tourism venues, more workers must come to staff them, more housing and commercial buildings must be built to serve the workforce, more restaurants and hotels must be built to cater to the tourists, more road and infrastructure improvements must be made serve the increased population. If the tourism economy is successful, the urbanization will continue. At some point the need to accommodate that larger population outweighs the economic viability of agricultural land, and the fields that remain become merely landscaping to give purpose to the tourism industry. The actual wine industry moves to a more economical locale, and the authenticity of a wine making region leaves with it.
SVB State of the Wine Industry 2019
With visitor counts falling every year for the last 4 years in Napa county Rob McMillan advises that "Your winery needs to find new growth and new consumers, and they aren't going to come from the present tasting room approach". (Chapter 9: "Sales and marketing for family wineries" beginning page 45.)
Update 2/25/15 Amber forwards one website that begins to create the Napa Internet Wine Portal envisioned below: Dave Thompson's very cleanly designed site The Napa Wine Project. It is a tremendous, actually astounding, online catalog of Napa wines and their descriptions and backstories. Just the thing to begin to make the necessity of acually visiting the 770+ small wineries he has been to around the county unnecessary. (Of course transporting people to them is how Dave tries to make ends meet.)
2/10/15It is important to remember that the one purpose of the land use policies articulated in the Napa General Plan is to encourage a market for Napa grapes, not to create a tourist industry to consume Napa wine. Wine sales to tourists have major negative impacts on the character of the valley, on the lives of the people who live here and, I think, on the viability of continuing an agricultural economy. Alternatives need to be pursued.
Currently, according to to Rob McMillan's SVB statistics, 6% of Napa wine is sold via the Internet. His feeling in his presentation to the Planning Comission was that direct sales at the winery were still important because unlike books or shoes, fine wines didn't lend themselves to Internet sales - they can't be returned after they're opened. There may be hurdles, but a technique to sell high-end wine on the internet will eventually be perfected and the need for in-winery sales, which even now constitute only a small portion of the overall sales of Napa wines but have big environmental impacts, will be over. Internet sales promise greater profits to the vintners without the impacts, hence as much effort should be put into an internet portal for Napa wines as has been spent on Visit Napa Valley trying to lure more customers to its bricks and mortar outlets. We need to make sure that the rural character of the valley is not destroyed in the meantime by preventing the construction of tourist facilities which will remain even after their need to support agriculture is gone.
Each winery has its own internet site, of course, so the process works, and someone will eventually become the Zappos of wine. Which is why it is important now for a Napa-only website to be developed that can compete with a larger site when it comes. Such a site, if developed as a quasi-public company like Visit Napa Valley, would profit vintners more than might be the case in a purely private company. The site should extoll the qualities of Napa wines, the importance of the concept of the Ag Preserve to maintain that quality and the reasons that Napa wine is more than just a bottle of wine - it is a piece of winemaking history.
Update 5/15/16 This is a short and cheerful slide show I put together with my Mother after the request from Vallejo friends who want to see alternative proposals for Vallejo other than a heavily polluting cement factory and other impactful industrial uses slated to come up for review in June. Right around the corner.
As a Napa Valley resident I believe it is important for alternative solutions to be found, as the pollution from the industrial uses there will come up the Napa River and Napa Valley with the tides, the fog and the winds and will impact us here.
I also believe that redevelopment of Vallejo/Mare Island, integrated with the wine hospitality industry, could help reduce development pressure on our up valley farming lands and forest/watershed lands, allowing for a better long term balance.
4/21/16As crazy as this sounds I believe it's worth seriously thinking about the Greater Napa Valley region as our upvalley farming/growing lands are under greater pressure for hospitality development and the situation in Vallejo is under time pressure as a large industrial cement factory is trying to move in.
I think it's important to remember that actual Napa Valley growing lands are limited and we must protect as much as possible for the future. I believe that stripping the hillsides for further vineyard planting will degrade our water sources and microclimate and alternative models for the overall situation must be sought.
The Vallejo residents would much rather be involved with wine country tourism than heavy industry (which would also impact the Napa River watershed) and the Vallejo/Mare Island area has the infrastructure capacity to handle the large scale visitation that causes upvalley concern with encroachment on farming land.
It took some time for it to sink in but is pretty extraordinary. For example, I was born in Vallejo at the Kaiser hospital and it was only months ago that I learned I was actually born in the Napa Valley. Not Napa County, but the Napa Valley.
It would be a longterm redevelopment plan (the best kind in my view) and would take some kind of revenue sharing but I think it bears consideration.
This is a Google map link of the Napa Valley as it connects to the SF/San Pablo Bay and a letter I've shown to a few people about a Mare Island/Vallejo idea presented to me . When you look at it as a whole and disregard the county line it is maybe a natural part of the solution to hospitality/tourism issues that could overwhelm our farming/growing lands.
The really staggering part of this is that I don't think any counties or governments really have to agree on anything, it just IS the Napa Valley.
With the definition of a natural valley and the precedent of places like the Shenendoah Valley that contain many counties, the way I see it somebody could go down there tomorrow and start calling it the Napa Valley and have a pretty good argument in doing so.
I've had recent meetings in American Canyon and Vallejo to try to better understand the south county/region issues.
I believe this area may carry many of the solutions to the issues of development and protection of our fragile upvalley growing regions.
There is ferry/rail connectivity from San Francisco and the Bay Area and Mare Island is a National Historic site reminiscent of the Presidio with historic buildings and beautiful SF Bay views ( if some of the old industrial buildings were dealt with.)
I was taken on a tour by a woman who is a historical architect retired the National Parks and recently worked with the transition team on the SF Presidio and a UN division on historical monuments and sites
Another critical aspect of this that she helped me to understand is the natural and geographic Napa Valley extends through American Canyon to Vallejo and Mare Island where the Napa River and Napa Valley watershed exit into the San Pablo/SF Bay.
If we look at a map and disregard the manmade county line, it is clear that Vallejo and Mare Island are the southern tip of the geographic Napa Valley.
(And we can define valleys geographically and naturally, rather than politically as in the example of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia/West Virginia that has nine counties. The natural valley is something bigger than the counties.)
Might that change perception of the VALUE of such an area as Mare Island/Vallejo for re-development if it were acknowledged as part of the NAPA VALLEY?
And seen not just as a pass through/embarkation point for the upper valley but rather as an area worthy in it's own right of care and re-development that would carry the Napa Valley Brand? Because it is the Napa Valley.
The architect who took me on the tour pointed out the spot where Jack London got off the ferry, she pointed out the true beginning of the Silverado Trail, the actual spot where Native Americans would come down the valley to the Bay at the southern end of the natural and geographic Napa Valley.
This is deeply connected to the history we already know of the Napa Valley and I believe could be tied in.
Vallejo has serious problems but many other cities such as Cincinnati and Portland Oregon have been able to resurrect themselves from industrial pasts, and we're already seeing re-development of other SF Bay waterfront areas like Alameda and Emeryville.
The other interesting aspect is that because of the separation by the river, Mare Island has the potential of being re-developed separately without having to take on the larger issues of Vallejo at the same time.
I believe it is just a matter of a few years before people see the value of re-developing Vallejo and Mare Island, as places like Emeryville and Alameda are being re-developed. If it's going to happen anyway I believe it would make sense to try and engage now to work on solutions that would benefit both that part of the region and our delicate upvalley as well.
Takes a big vision but I believe this is the area that has the capacity and infrastructure to accommodate much of the large scale tourism being promoted for Napa Valley. And it would still be an authentic Napa Valley experience because it is actually in Napa Valley.
The alternative proposal for Mare Island and Vallejo is a heavier industrialization that I believe will negatively impact the whole region, culturally and environmentally.
The alternative upvalley is to lose more Napa Valley growing/farming land to heavy commercial tourism use,
so I think this is an important discussion.
This map shows the proposed Soda Canyon Road Tourism-Free Zone, the first TF zone in Napa County. It comprises the watersheds of Rector Canyon and of Soda Creek. The zoning restrictions are identical to other AWOS zone but wineries created in the zone are limited to capacity of no more than 130% of the wine that may be produced from vineyards planted on the contiguous winery parcel. By-appointment daytime tastings are permitted at the ratio of 500visitors/10000gal/yr but no wine sales, marketing events or food service are allowed. The intent is to insure that wineries are built to process grapes, not to process tourists. Existing wineries would be grandfathered at their existing tourism levels as of 1/1/16.
The zone has been created in an attempt to insure that the rural areas of the county are preserved as agricultural and residential communities that can withstand the shift from a resident-based agricultural economy to the corporate-based tourism economy that has already begun to replace the valley's vineyards and farmsteads with event centers and empty the towns' residential communities.
A lot of us now have been advocating for a long-term solution to the urban development taking place in Napa county that will eventually consume its agricultural landscape. Much of that urban development is occurring around the desire of some vintners to bring ever more tourists into the vineyards - a direct-to-consumer approach that uses the money that might have gone to distributers to pay for the grandiose ego statements rising out of the vines. There are currently perhaps 65 new wineries or winery expansions that have been approved but not yet built and another 50 or so currently in the planning department (the list is here). These projects will not only litter the vineyards with buildings and parking lots, but will create the incentive for a cascade of urban development as the cities approve more and more hotels and restaurants and boutique shops. And all will require more and more workers commuting from elsewhere to to tend to the increasing population of tourists.
One person is doing more than just a wringing of hands. Andy Beckstoffer, the major domo of vineyard development in the valley, as seen above, has put money into an effort to stem the tide of vineyard urbanization by promoting direct-to-consumer in the city of Napa. He is not alone. More examples of this positive trend in wine retailing are seen here and here. In fact First Street is becoming a taster's row.
It should only be a beginning. The occupation of Copia by the Culinary institute is an opportunity to bring d-t-c tasting facilities in the form of the Napa Valley Wine Halls proposed below. The city might even consider the possibility of the formation of the worlds greatest wine tasting stroll beginning at a wine market in the renovated Post Office and ending at Copia.
The movement of the locus of wine tasting and entertainment away from the vineyards is an imperative if they are to survive. Burgandy learned this long ago and its vineyards have been able to last centuries rather than decades. At the current rate of tourism development into the vineyards, by the time Stag's Leap Cellars or Chateau Montelena turn 100 the vines will be little more than a garnish around the parking lots at the base of the freeway off-ramps
It doesn't solve the problems of increased traffic, additional accommodations in town, additional hospitality workers and their needs for housing and shopping centers, and all of the other infrastructure demands that will be put on the county to deal with an ever greater influx of development and people into the county. But it does mean that the residents who live in the vineyards can get a decent night's sleep. And that is not unimportant.
Nor is it a whimsical idea; Sonoma County has recently placed a 5pm curfew on one of its event centers (and required all production to be enclosed). And the condition makes sense. If a business can't make a profit selling wine during a normal business day, should the county be obligated to prop it up after hours? And there are all of those restaurants in the municipalities that may welcome not seeing their customers drift out to the vineyards for lively banquet. But most importantly, few flash points between resident and entrepreneur are as visceral as the noise and lights that break the quiet, dark sky environment that distinguishes living in rural Napa county from the rest of the Bay Area.
It is a simple prohibition. It is unambiguous. It is easy to enforce. It will get rid of a few of the bewildering numbers in the use-permit visitation requests. It will not resolve citizen's complaints that tourism is corrupting the enjoyment and authenticity of living in a rural place, but it may help.
This solution to the event center proliferation was not considered earlier because I frankly thought it was a non-starter, despite an intimation by Supervisor Luce at the first joint BOS/PC meeting back on May 20th, 2014 that the need for any more wineries should be questioned. At the Mar 10th, 2015 meeting he came out again questioning the need for more wineries given the glut of capacity in the county. It is a proposal that needs serious discussion. Unfortunately the APAC seems like it will be too stuck in the numerical weeds of the WDO to consider any far reaching proposals, including most of the other solutions proposed on this solutions page, I'm afraid. Just think about the amount of free time the planning department and planning commission could spend on the long range interests of the county if they didn't have to spend all their time on vanity winery projecrs.
I think the county faces a clear choice. If it wants to protect the Napa brand and preserve the character of Napa Valley, it needs to clamp down on expansion of winery capacity that cannot be supplied by Napa County fruit, enforce its restrictions on grape imports, and resist debasement of the brand by operators using a "Made in Napa" label. It needs to account for the environmental damage and congestion costs of more wineries, more wine tourists, and more low-wage workers commuting into the county to work in the wine and hospitality industries. The wine and hospitality industries have been good for Napa County, but it is in their interest as well as all our interests that they continue to thrive on a sustainable path without self-destructive over-development. Currently, the County development plan, and ordinances to channel and regulate growth, have failed to restrain growth of the wine and tourist industries to sustainable levels. To achieve prudent growth levels, the Supervisors have to tighten their current planning and permitting procedures. Here are some specific possible actions:
Ask AFT to reduce confusion of Napa production and Napa AVA wines by requiring all producers to label their products with the percentage of Napa County fruit.
Keep separate production statistics for large everyday wine producers like Sutter Home that rely primarily on non-Napa fruit, and the wineries who do rely primarily on Napa fruit. These types of wineries are very different, and their growth should be regulated separately.
Declare a partial moratorium on winery and hotel expansion, limiting them to growth rates of one percent per year.
Give priority to estate wineries and wineries that are scaled in proportion to their grape supply.
Give priority to wineries who commit to using Napa fruit, and can establish a source.
Give preference to wineries that locate in current industrial areas rather than in the ag preserve.
Give preference for visitor programs to wineries who locate their tasting facilities near major tourist centers.
Increase minimum parcel size for a winery, and require that wineries replace any vineyards destroyed or damaged by construction or operations.
Improve monitoring and audits of wineries to ensure that they meet the Napa fruit requirements and do not abuse the Napa environment.
Give wineries substantial freedom to run their visitor programs as they wish, but strictly limit annual visitor numbers, taking into account traffic congestion, safety, and neighborhood nuisance factors.
Keep in mind that all but a tiny fraction of 160 acre parcels are in outlying areas, so limiting wineries to 160 acre parcels would push development entirely to the hills (a.k.a. the place where a conservation-minded person like myself does NOT want to see more development).
My opinion is that the way to go is with a combination of acreage and zoning;
a) In an industrial area or within city limits, who cares how many wineries?
b) For valley-floor tourist areas, the issue has more to do with density; in
order to leave arable land open, limit wineries to one per 40 acres or
something like that.
c) In the hills, wineries are out of place no matter what the parcel size
I know that sounds more complicated, but Napa has distinctly different regions, in terms of what is appropriate where.
There are several suggestions that might be made regarding the interpretation of the WDO rather than its rewriting. The 2010 WDO is here and the WDO interpretive guidance is here. These suggestions are made in a total lack of knowledge about what is or isn't realistic.
1. Use a better metric to define "clearly incidental and subordinate to the primary operation of a winery as a production facility." RIght now "incidentalness" is only implied by square footage of space devoted to marketing vs production, although 40% is hardly incidental. But even that is a really unreliable metric (marketing is often carried out in the production space) and nothing in the ordinance says that the spatial ratio defines incidentalness. Might it not be better to compare the revenues from the sale of wine to the revenues from the sale of everything else as a measure of incidentalness? I could be wrong, but I think that wineries have to keep very accurate records of revenues related specifically to the wine they produce. Compare that number to their total revenues. This would have the further advantage of allowing a quantification of the aggregate tourism industry at wineries and how important winery tourism is to the total wine industry. Once an appropriate county wide ratio is established, marketing plans could be allowed to increase or required to decrease based on the previous years results.
2. Begin counting outdoor terraces and gardens as accessory space. AB 2004 (the Evans Bill) passed in 2008 allowed wineries to begin selling wine for consumption in "picnic areas" on winery premises. Suddenly outdoor areas became principal profit centers at the winery. But no one has bothered to begin including those areas as part of the accessory area of a winery. (It is included in the winery development area but not the accessory area used to establish the 40% ratio.) There is nothing in the WDO to prevent their inclusion in the accessory area if "accessory structure" is interpreted to include terraces and gardens. This has been been questioned in planning commission meetings this last year and now is the time to begin including it.
3. Require proof that winery food is being served at "no charge except to the extent of cost recovery". A traditional tasting is $50. A wine and food pairing is $125. $75 for the food is at cost? A $125 lunch is at cost? It is a lie to claim that food service is not a profit generator. If it didn't generate profits then the changes to the WDO in 2010, which were only about expanding food service activities, would not have happened.
Geoff Ellsworth remarked recently on the perceived dangers of reopening the "black hole" of the WDO in fear that doing so might strengthing the position of tourism developers. Here is my simple (minded) approach:
3. delete the "(B)" paragraphs further down in the 1990 ordinance that refer to section 12071.
4. Add new section 12418(c) to read "Wineries that were establish after May 20th 2014 --- 40 acres on parcels zoned AP and 160 acres on parcels zoned AW."
These recommendations are based on two premisses: first that the serving of food at wineries corrupts their role as agricultural processing facilities, leading to their more profitable, and more impactful, use as restaurants and event venues. Second, a commercial winery on every parcel larger than 10 acres in the ocunty (the current zoning assumption), if realized, would both grossly exceed the carrying capacity of Napa grapes and severly damage the visual and practical aspects of an agricultural economy. Setting the minimum parcel size for wineries at the minimum subdivision parcel size reestablishes an appropriate relationship between zoning and winery construction.
Few would argue that Napa is a successful agriculture-based economy. So why is further development necessary - other than to create an income for developers. If our intent is to have an agricultural economy for the next 50 years, in recognition that the crop upon which that economy is based is finite it is time to begin thinking about maintaining a stable economy based on that finite resource rather than the free market attitude of ever expanding profits based on ever expanding development.
As we know from government mandates, the county and its municipalities are required to bear a portion of the development burden created by an expanding population in the state. We should define that burden in the most logical way, by the number of people that Napa county contributes to the world population each year. Can the state argue with that definition? In 2010, 1525 people were born in Napa County. In 2010, 1146 people died in the county. The difference, ±400 people added to the world's population each year, has been fairly constant for at least the previous 10 years, perhaps much longer. Let that increase be the present development standard that we set for the county: 200 housing units per year, 400 jobs created each year. And no more. (Currently about 2800 housing units are in the planning stages in the county)
Then the county can devote itself to two tasks. How to make it's industries more profitable in ways that don't involve agriculture-threatening development. And how to reduce the number of people that Napa county adds to the world's population each year - the only real solution to everyone's long term problems.
I have lamented time and again here that tourism is not agriculture but that the two are homogenized in the WDO solely to the benefit of tourism developers who cloak their attractions in the guise of making wine. A simple solution: separate use permits for wineries from those of visitation. My suggestion to insure that wineries are being built to produce wine and that visitation is the incidental and subordinate activity that the WDO portrays it as:
1. visitation permit may be applied for 5 years after winery construction or expansion.
2. visitation permit to be renewed every 5 years - a temporary permit not part of the land entitlement.
3. non compliance will revoke visitation permit.
This system would give neighbors the opportunity to evaluate how good a neighbor a particular operator has been. It would also insure that permits are not being obtained by developers solely to make resale of the property more profitable. It would also dilute the effect of giving permits to good stewards who's heirs may sell to bad stewards.
I came very late to the Napa Pipe project just as it was being passed from the planning commission to the Supervisors for approval after 8 years of effort. It will be as disastrous for the future of the ag preserve as all of the tourist projects we have been opposing combined. It is a major addition to the developing Napa-Vallejo metropolitan area, and will eliminate one of the last chances to maintain a greenbelt separating Napa from the rest of the Bay Area sprawl. It will require major highway improvements to the roads leading into and up the valley to accomodate its traffic. Those improvements will encourage more traffic and enable more development. The new county voters that reside in Napa Pipe will have less interest in preserving vines than in commercial development and the votes necessary to convert agricultural land to urban use will be ever easier to obtain. Together with the large housing projects planned for Tulucay Village in Napa and Watson Ranch in American Canyon the balance of voter interest will have shifted from agricultural to urban uses and the days of Napa county as anything but a bedroom community will be numbered. Sean Scully or the NVR has done a great analysis of just this issue here and here.
Use the property for something else:
1. How about vines? 140 acres of vines in the valley produces from $1.7 mil to $3.9 mil in revenue each year with much less initial investment and no requirement for county or city services.
2. Turn the Napa Pipe site into the county fairgrounds and keep the proposed hotel. BottleRock will have enough space for a major event with enough parking that will not impact the downtown and a shuttle service along the river during events could provide downtown access to shops and restaurants and from hotels. Some of the current fairgrounds site would then be available for the mandated 180 housing units of housing. Also, since it is apparant that the Meritage Resort just south of Napa Pipe is a success, perhaps it is worth considering Napa Pipe for additional high-revenue hotel uses, turning the stretch of the river between Meritage and the city into the Napa Riviera and parkland. Just a thought.
One of the complaints about increasing the minimum acreage for a winery to 40 or 160 acres (brought up by several people at the recent APAC meeting) is the impossibility of all but the wealthiest to be able to build one. To counter this I would suggest that a true "family winery" be defined in a new WDO with the following conditions:
10 acre minimum
20,000 gal/yr maximum [originally 10,000]
85% estate grapes (NVV definition of "napa" wine)
Owner occupied residence
By appt. tours/tastings, no food - max visitations 50/wk
Use-permit given to owner, not property.
People who wish to prove their winemaking ability should have the opportunity to do so in Napa County. The purpose of the winery must be to make wine. Marketing it is something that the owner must do the old-fashion way: pitching to restaurants and retailers, competing in tastings, lots of leg work and now internet buzz.
I must again mention that some cult wines such as Screaming Eagle [as well as Scarecrow, Coglin and others] have no visitation. They produce less than 20,000 gals per year. They just make some of the best wine in the world. The waiting list is years long. Somehow they survive.
This new WDO would replace its predecessor for the AW zone, and other types of wineries or winery expansions would no longer be permitted there. Increased volume or a desire for more marketing would have to be accommodated in the industrial and municipal areas of the county.
The appeal of this solution is that a new generation of winemakers would be able to start in the business on smaller parcels made more affordable because tourism potential is not factored into the land price. More importantly the restriction on visitation and size does begin to provide the "authentic" experience that wine aficionados seek in out-of-the-way wineries, maintaining a sense of discovery not found in the mass-market wine-pairings of the tourist wineries. The Napa Brand might have an opportunity to regain some the authenticity it is losing through the current tourism-centric, "elvis-goes-to-vegas", approach.
The county already defines a "small winery" though not for the purposes described here.
The maintenance of an agricultural economy means that the pressure of development potential be taken off of agricultural land. In 1968 it was done by defining minimum parcel sizes, at first 40 acres and then expanded to 160 acres and then depended on the rational economic decisions of growers to determine whether they wanted to invest in a winery or not. They did, and by 1990 more regulation was necessary to prevent vineyard buildout as developers found that the difficult economic decision of building a grape processing facility could be eased by processing tourists as well.
Enough subdivision of napa county land had occurred before the 160 acre provision went into effect that it's impact has been modest - as with the viewshed and conservation ordinances and other regulations, I'm sure, they go into effect when most of the damage they are meant to prevent is already done. And since the WDO of 1990 set the minimum parcel size for a winery at 10 acres, meaning virtually every parcel in the county, it now really means nothing in terms of preventing the development of vineyards into more profitable use.
I have suggested in another solution that the minimum acreage for a winery development should be 40/160 acres just as it is for subdivision. I would also propose in addition here that a catalog of properties below 160 acres be made in the county and that each be defined as suitable or unsuitable for development beyond vines and zoned accordingly. The basis for the decision should be whether or not the property represents an infill of an already developed area. Fortunately we now have Google Maps to easily determine which properties represent undeveloped acreage surrounded by developed parcels. The areas are generally at the edges of the municipalities and along the Hwy 29 corridor. To the extent that more winery capacity is needed in the future, these properties, and only these properties, should be the ones used for winery and tourism development.
This property-by-property zoning approach, often done in municipal zoning, of course means very difficult and contentious decisions on the part of the county. Unfortunately, it is no longer clear that the county has the will or ability to do that, and we are probably at a point at which development of vineyard property will proceed until it is all gone.
The amount of revenue that can be generated from Napa Appellation wines will be a relatively fixed amount - depending on the slow development of new vineyards, of marketing strategies that may raise the price per bottle and of inflation. Tourism revenue however can continue to climb as new tourist attractions are conceived (hotel wineries, b&b wineries, casino wineries, amusement park wineries - the winery aspects a mere pretext to get the projects approved) and new facilities are constructed. The tourism industry, if left unregulated, will eventually swamp the wine industry and land use decisions will be based more and more on what is good for the tourism industry and not what is good for the wine industry. The vineyards will be eaten up for event parking lots, resorts, city expansion etc.
Given the impacts that tourism is already having on the county, vis-a-vis traffic, housing, water and land consumption, it is a good time to look at those numbers and recognize that tourism, at about 1/4 the total economy of the ag zone, might be a level that should be maintained through zoning policies. That ratio could be increased, by development in the municipalities, but only if the protections of the agricultural land become even stricter than they are now, to insure that the increasing pressure created by ever denser tourism developments in town and the changing demographics created by an ever increasing tourism work force do not threaten the agricultural lands. The percentage of votes needed to rezone agricultural land, which is a simple majority under the 1990 measure J , may need to be adjusted.
Another possibility might be to have a fixed total number of winery tourist slots per year in the county, creating a market in tourism slots. A winery wishing to have more tourists would have to buy them from someone else.
The wine industry needs to seek profits that don't derive from tourism and its negative impacts. RIght now the food-rich waste water from the wineries is being trucked to Oakland for disposal since the county's wastewater treatment system is not capable of handling that much solid waste. An article about the problem is here.
Oakland turns this rich waste water into methane gas which it then uses to generate electricity which it sell to PG&E producting a profit. An article on the process is here. It is an amazing example of green technology at work.
Napa with its ready supply of winery waste and its ever increasing supply of restaurant waste should be in the perfect position to create an energy surplus in their own energy generation wastewater treatment facility especially since they already have one co-energy digester. The county needs to make the investment necessary to make co-energy production a profit center.
From the 1990 WDO: Any project that directly or indirectly results in the removal of existing or potential vineyard land from use depletes the inventory of such land forever.
The best solution to halt the pernicious transfer from an agricultural to a tourist economy is to stop building on undeveloped land.
1. No vineyard acreage, or acerage that was vineyard in the last 25 years but is now fallow, should be removed from the ag preserve or ag watershed zones. Period. Such properties should not only be ineligible for commercial/industrial construction, like wineries, but for residential construction as well.
2. Properties that are raw land suitable for vineyard development, meaning adequate water availability and reasonable access, should not be allowed to develop beyond agriculture - no houses, no wineries. Agriculture should mean agriculture.
3. New wineries may be developed on parcels larger than 40 acres in AP zones and 160 acres in AW zones if an existing developed area on the property can be converted to winery use, but the decrease of plantable land on the property should be prohibited.
Vineyards and the grapes they produce are a finite quantity in Napa County. There is still some room for some expansion of the crop, but as water resources become ever scarcer and the developable land ever more difficult to access and community activism stretches out the development process, the rate of wilderness to vineyard conversion will diminish.
Eric Vaughn has made a proposal that should be at the heart of winery development in the County which links winery capacity permitted to the size of the crop available for wine. I have reproduced it here.
The decision to build a winery should be based on the need for new capacity to process newly created vineyard acres in the county. The capacity permitted for a new winery should also be based on the new vineyard acres in production. Since it is impossible to have new vineyards directly related to new wineries, a market in winery capacity should be developed. New winery capacity permitted should be based on the amount of new vineyards added each year, e.g. 10,000 gals for each 10 acres of new vines on undeveloped land. In addition a bonus should be made for the conversion of developed land back into vines, e.g. 20,000 gals for each 10 acres when restoring already developed land. Developers of new vines can sell their capacity equivalent. Wineries with excess permitted capacity can sell that to other wineries. Expansions of existing wineries should likewise be based on the capacity that they purchase form others or from the new vineyards that they bring into production.
There are several thousand parcels of property in Napa County larger than the currently allowable 10 acre minimum for a winery in the AP, AR, and AW zones of the County. The County has the obligation to assume and to plan for complete buildout of all allowable parcels of a particular zoning, just as they would for residential or commercially zoned parcels. This potential buildout is shown on the NapaSonomaVoice map of potential winery sites in Napa County. Several thousand parcels each with a winery and each with the incentive to fill thousands of tourism slots would create a level of development, requiring a degree of hotel, commercial, housing, road, water supply and sanitary sewer development that would go way beyond the the intent of the Napa General plan to maintain an agricultural based economy. Yet as the WDO is manipulated to allow more profitability at wineries this is just the result likely. The dependence of an invisible hand, i.e. reasonable economic development decisions based on economic self intrest, to control tourism winery development, relied on in the past, becomes fleeting when the development money is supplied by individuals who have amassed wealth elsewhere and now wish a winery-of-their-own at any cost. The parcels available for winery construction must be of a quantity that, at maximum buildout, the number of wineries is appropriate for the amount of grapes available.
A case could be made that at the very least, the minimum property size for a winery should also be the minimum size for property subdivision, i.e. 160 acres in AW zones and 40 acres in the AP and AR zones. Having a large minimum property size means that there is an incentive for wealthy investors to recombine smaller parcels, making agriculture more efficient and the impact of winery presence less obtrusive on the agricultural landscape.
In a blog post response to the third Raymond Winery Hearing Eric Vaughn, aka Crosscountrykid, laid out what should to be one of many solutions to rein the transfer of an agricultural to a tourist economy in Napa county. I don't know how to link to a particular post so I will just copy it here:
Cueing off dzynur's idea for a good database and a comment from Spvsr. Luce cited in the 8/19 NVR about the WDO and winery capacity, let me naively ask:
Why not use the county's total grape growing capacity as the main criterion for approving a new permit or a change to an existing permit? Let harvest figures be the self-limiting cap, regardless of a winery's chosen business model.
This means creating a good reliable database, but the focus can be on one item: the amount of available grapes. The county would have to oversee and more closely enforce permits, but again, concentrating on the amount of available fruit. Permit applicants would need to clearly identify the source of their grapes. Simply put, when a permit is reviewed, no grapes or insufficient grapes, no permit. Wineries that actually grow their own grapes can decide to keep their grapes or sell part of them to someone else. Etcetera.
My apologies if this rough outline only reveals my ignorance.
As mentioned below, Mia Carta follows the Vintner's Collective model of an accessible, multi-vintner tasting room, making more of Napa's many labels accessible to buyers uninterested in a $75 tasting each time they want to try a different wine. Small steps toward the kind of Napa Public Wine Market that might become a significant a tourist destination.
Update 7/14/15: Under the latest development proposal the Culinary Institute of America is to occupy the Copia building. It is not too late to consider the incorporation of a Wine Market Hall as a part of the project.
One of the greatest rationales for encouraging tourism to wineries is that direct-to-consumer marketing is necessary for profitability. But those visits have impacts on vineyard property development, on neighborhoods and on Napa roadways. While winery tours and tastings need to be a part of the napa experience it should also be possible for tourists to taste the wines of remote and small producers without the necessity of driving. A wine market in each Napa town, showcasing the smaller vintners in their vicinity should be created and even subsidized if necessary. Remote tasting only allows a small number of vineyards to be visited while a wine market allows the full spectrum of wines produced in the valley to be sampled. The main wine market should be in Napa and what better place than Copia. Copia should also be an event center for the large events (250 people or more) that wineries are requesting to host now. It is a place that can provide the adequate infrastructure for large events.
It should also be noted that the urban multi-winery tasting room concept is alive and well: the Vintners Collective in downtown Napa represents a tourism impact friendly approach to local marketing of small wineries.
My own modest proposal for the new Napa Valley Wine Market Halls adjacent to the Copia Event Center is here:
Eliminate all food service from wineries. Wineries may be justified as agricultural processing facilities but serving food in wineries has nothing to do with the production of wine. Tours and tastings of wine being produced should continue as the only legitimate tourist activities tied to the wine making process.
Someone happened to mention the cult wine producer Screaming Eagle yesterday and so I looked up their website. This note on the site's FAQ made a great impression:
"Can I visit the property?
We are sorry to report that the property cannot accommodate tours and that because of the extremely small quantity of wine produced we do not offer tastings."
The lesson I took from this: Great wines don't need tourists.
The very well regarded Dominus Estate, recently involved in opposing the proposed mega-tourist attraction Yountville Hill Winery, is also a tourist-free zone.
Given all of the pleadings that some vintners make that their survival depends on tourist sales, these two examples make me wonder how many other of the valley's greatest winemakers feel no need to cater to tourists to sell their wines. And while those wineries that allow no visitors are probably rare, there are many wineries, like White Rock Vineyards on our road, that have managed to sell extremely good wines for decades with a very modest amount of by-appointment tastings. It does make me wonder if extensive marketing plans might, in fact, be a sign of second rate wines.
These examples reaffirm the idea that wineries can be profitable without tourism and that tours and tastings are sufficient to provide an in-winery marketing tool. Food service, and the commercial kitchens it requires, should be banned. "Social, Cultural and Business Events" belong in the hotels and resorts and restaurants located within the city limits as intended in the general plan.
In 1990 the WDO was burdened with an original sin that has now begun to affect the maintenance of an agricultural economy. The permission to " include food service without charge except to the extent of cost recovery when provided in association with such education of development" has allowed wineries to become fixed-menu restaurants with a restaurant's need for extensive staff, parking, water supply and wastewater treatment, and extended operating hours. Restaurants are commercial activities in direct competition for the land and water resources necessary for agriculture. That permission needs to be struck from the WDO if agriculture is not to be whittled away by further more profitable commercial "event centers" throughout the 1000's of agricultural properties throughout the county. Wineries may belong in the vineyards - restaurants do not.
1. The 2010 "clarification" of the WDO should be rescinded in its entirety.
2. The "Marketing of Wine" paragraph in the 1990 WDO should be recinded.