[published in the NVR 10/20/14: Please oppose Woolls Ranch winery
On October 21st the Napa County Board of Supervisors will be reviewing the neighbor's appeal of the Woolls Ranch Winery use permit granted by the Planning Commission in November of 2013 on Mt. Veeder Road. The application is for a 50,000 gal/yr, 17,000 sf winery and event center with commercial kitchen, 15,600 'tours and tasting' visitors/yr and 4600 'marketing event' visitors/yr with operating hours from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. The project is proposed for a site on the Mt. Veeder Road watershed, owned by the Woolls. There are major issues of water shortage in the western watershed and, especially in a time of a drought that may never fully abate, I would urge the Board to uphold the appeal and reject the use permit. But there are other reasons that the project should not be built.
Woolls Ranch is one of 70 or so new wineries or existing winery expansions approved in the last 4 years. An additional 25+ projects are also currently in the planning department. Almost all of the approved projects have yet to be built, and the development needs for their hundreds of employees and contractors and for their hundreds of thousands of tourists have yet to add to the impacts that already threaten our agricultural economy and the rural and small-town character of the county.
The development trend that these projects represent promises a very different environment in the future from that we currently enjoy. There are about 500 wineries currently in the AP/AW zones of the county. There are several thousand additional properties that can be developed under the Winery Definition Ordinance guidelines into winery projects.
One of those properties may be in your backyard, just as one, currently proposed as a tourism-winery, is in my backyard on the Rector watershed.
The development of these "wineries" is not driven by the need to process Napa grapes into wine. There is currently more permitted winery capacity in the AP/AW zones than is necessary to produce all of the grapes in the county. And there will be into the future as new vineyard development is curtailed by lack of suitable land, community opposition and the disappearance of water, and as existing vineyards are nibbled away to accommodate these projects . In almost every case the new wineries will be using vineyard output that was previously handled by some other Napa winery. In many cases, like Woolls Ranch or Yountville Hill, the developer already has one winery, but rather than efficiently increasing output at the existing facility they are developing a new winery for a new purpose: to profit from tourism and event hosting. Yountville Hill promises visitors a spectacular view of the heart of the valley. Woolls Ranch promises visitors exposure to the undeveloped remoteness of the watershed landscapes. Woolls Ranch, like the Mountain Peak project proposed next to my home below Atlas Peak, is in the vanguard of the process of commercializing the residential-agricultural areas of the watersheds.
To date the Napa wine industry, through the vision of its founding vintners and growers, has created something special, something lauded at almost every Supervisor and Planning Commission meeting: a beautiful rural and small town agrarian community that is economically sustainable in the midst of a suburbanized world. Developers and some vintners cry that the only way to nourish that community it is to bring in more tourists. But there are many responsible vintners in the valley that know from experience that great wines don't need tourists to make a profit. And I think we all know that the attempt by developers to monitize the agrarian character of the county with ever increasing tourism will eventually succeed in destroying it.
Betty and Paul Woolls are responsible Napans who have contributed much to the betterment of our community. Please, make one more contribution. The acres of vines on the Woolls Ranch property will continue to be a considerable source of income whether or not this winery is built. To all of the developers proposing these tourist attractions, in the name of all county residents, now and in the future, whose quality of life will be permanently diminished by the traffic congestion, water depletion, viewshed destruction, noise and light pollution, and the creation of ever more suburban development necessary to accommodate the ever increasing numbers of tourists and employees, please, channel your energies into the modest profits and great renown to be had making great wines, and forgo the marginal profits and devastating impacts that these tourist developments will bring to Napa county.
French and Persian palaces, Tuscan castles and ariel tramways notwithstanding, it is not too late to preserve the character and substance of the rest of our agricultural community. I would urge everyone with a similar concern for the future of the county to email your supervisors (http://www.countyofnapa.org/bos/) and to attend the hearing on October 21st.