The Caves at Soda Canyon wants more tourism
on the web at:
Bill Hocker | Feb 19, 2021

Update 3/5/21
Below is my email exchange with Caves CEO michael Freeman and the county trying to find out why the allowed visitation was increased from 70 to 140 vis/wk at the time that the appeal of the generator issue was resolved on 2/27/18, desite no request to increase visitation. It was not a satisfactory response and needs to be taken up again when the new increased visitation request by The Caves comes up before the planning commission.

From: Bill Hocker
Subject: Re: Caves at Soda Canyon Use-permit modification submittal
Date: March 5, 2021 at 3:32:07 PM PST
To: "Gallina, Charlene"
Cc: "Hawkes, Trevor" , "Bordona, Brian" , "Morrison, David"

Ms. Gallina,

I really appreciate your response to my email. I should have copied you in the first place since I know you end up dealing with a lot of the number crunching in these requests. (Staglin seemed to push the exercise to new heights.)

In the 4/19/17 staff report for the planning commission (attached below), the statement is made

    Visitation - Approved: 20 visitors maximum per day; 140 maximum per week
    Visitation - Proposed: No change

I think that the inclusion of the "140 maximum per week" was simply a mistake (in a non-legally binding document). In the COA's that resulted from the that 4/19/17 hearing, the "average of 70 persons/week" language is still there. In the P16-00106 Approval Letter Packet, the tours and tastings condition is referenced as


Condition No. 3 of P05-0391 and P06-01008, which is part of Exhibit A in the Approval Letter Packet (attached below), says

    COA No. 3: Tours and Tastings
    Tours and Tastings are limited to a maximum of 20 person/day with an average of 70 persons/week.

Thus, prior to the 2/27/18 Appeal Hearing, the legal COA was still "with an average of 70 persons/week". As the 2/27/18 redlined text of proposed changes to the COA's (also attached below) indicates in strikeout, the "70 persons/wk" language was still in force.
The strikeout condition

    Tours and Tastings are limited to a maximum of 20 person/day with an average of 7etter for the appeal hearing 0 persons/week.

was "reformatted" to the not-bluelined condition of

    b. Maximum number of persons per day: 20

    c. Maximum number of persons per week: 140

I couldn't see anywhere in the appeal where visitation numbers were requested to be changed. Indeed, the agenda letter for the BOS appeal hearing(attached below) indicates that "No changes are proposed to the number of visitors or marketing events." In "reformatting" the text perhaps someone just looked at the 2017 staff report and assumed that the 140 max was the existing COA. But it was not. And the text as "reformatted" in the 2018 COA's does, in fact, double the amount of t&t allowed at the winery with no public process to vet it.

As perhaps an aside, I can see how the term "average" is a bit squishy and depends on when the average is calculated. The implicit assumption in a weekly average is that it be calculated on a weekly basis. But even if you did feel that the 70/wk average didn't preclude a 140/wk maximum (as Mr. Freeman mentioned in his email below) the average would still have to be calculated at some point. If calculated on a yearly basis, for every 140 person week in a year there would have to be a 0 person week to meet the average. Mr. Freeman is currently assuming, based on the change in the text, that he is allowed 140/week every week of the year and is making his new request on that basis. (Calculating the average on a longer period that would allow 140vis/wk for a full year would be, I hope we can all agree, an unsupportable assumption.)

I do feel that the change, however it is looked at, really did double the amount of visitation allowed at the Caves without any proper administrative vetting. You could perhaps argue that it is the obligation of interested parties to verify all "unchanged" conditions to make sure they really are unchanged, as well as the red and blue changed ones. But I would argue that changing conditions and presenting them as unchanged, if done intentionally, lacks a bit of transparency. If done unintentionally, I would hope that county would be open to a correction, especially given the effort, often in expensive battles (see Staglin again), that goes into establishing these numbers in the first place. The lack of proper process in making the change needs to be addressed before any new visitation request be entertained.
Thank you again for looking into this.

Bill Hocker

2/27/18 Redlined COA's
2/27/18 BOS Agenda Letter
4/27/17 Approval Letter sent to Scott-Minert
4/19/17 Staff Agenda Letter for PC hearing

From: "Gallina, Charlene"
Subject: RE: Caves at Soda Canyon Use-permit modification submittal
Date: March 5, 2021 at 8:38:09 AM PST

Hello Bill,

I hope you remain well these days! Director Morrison asked me to respond to your email below.

You are correct that the original use permit stated that visitation was 20 per day with an average of 70 per week. (See Exhibit A Condition #3 ?" Tours & Tastings of P05-00391 from the Planning Commission approval letter for P16-00106-MOD). After reviewing the staff report for the Planning Commission (see attached under Background), staff identified that their entitlement was 20 per day with a maximum of 140 per week (20 x 7 days gave us a maximum) since at the time we were changing over to weekly maximums versus using an average. Reason being for this change was for ease in winery monitoring activities and the need to conduct our CEQA review with a maximum worst case scenario. Daily maximums would have been used in this case.

When processing the Appeal, final conditions were converted to the new standard conditions for Visitation and Marketing (COA 4.2 and COA 4.3) as adopted by the Board of Supervisors showing maximums versus averages thereby updating or striking out previous conditions and referring to the new condition format (See Exhibit A). I hope this clarifies matters.

Please note that I have included Trevor Hawkes in this correspondence since he is going to be processing their new Major Modification request (P21-00009-MOD). This application is under review now. Please let us know if you have any additional questions.


Charlene Gallina
Supervising Planner
Napa County Planning, Building, & Environmental Services Department
(707) 299-1355

2/27/18 Approval Letter sent to Ryan Waugh
4/27/17 Approval Letter sent to Scott-Minert
4/19/17 Staff Agenda Letter for hearing

From: Bill Hocker
Sent: Thursday, February 25, 2021 4:27 PM
To: Morrison, David
Subject: Caves at Soda Canyon Use-permit modification submittal

Dir. Morrison,

The caves at Soda Canyon has submitted a request for a visitation modification to their use permit. In an email exchange with Mr. Freeman (see below) he indicated that tours and tastings were currently allowed up to 140 visitors/wk whereas I thought that that the limit was 70/wk. In my response to his email, I dug around in the documents (also see below) and found that the expression "with an average of 70 person/week" was eliminated from a "reformatted" text of the tours-and-tastings COA finalized in the appeal. That change was made at or after the appeal hearing but there was no request to make the change to visitation numbers in appeal documents, in your agenda letter or any other documents that I came across. Could you ask someone to find out why or when the decision to eliminate the provision was made?

Bill Hocker

From: Bill Hocker
Subject: Re: Hello
Date: February 25, 2021 at 3:11:36 PM PST
To: Michael Freeman

Mr. Freeman

Thank you for reaching out. I too would like relationship that is less confrontational. I keep hoping that the Caves saga will end in a pattern that we can all just live with. But there always seems to be another issue. And your new request for changes in visitation raises a big one.

The discrepancy between my recollection of 70 vis/wk and yours of 140 vis/wk did leave me a bit perplexed, and I had to dig back into the documents.
They seem to raise an issue (or can of worms) which needs to be clarified by the County, or which, perhaps, you can clarify.

In the documents attached to the 4/19/17 Planning Comm agenda, the COA's state that "Tours and Tastings are limited to a maximum of 20 person/day with an average of 70 persons/week."

For the 2018 Appeal to the BOS, which was about the generator, the COA's regarding visitation (see this redline) were apparently "reformatted". In the "reformatted" text the phrase "with an average of 70 persons/week" was eliminated. The stated intent of the reformatting seemed technical: "This Condition has been relocated to COA No. 4.2. in order to update the formatting to our current standards and have the standard language regarding the definition of “Tours and Tastings” and the requirement for a log book or similar record. Two additional items have been added per the compromise reached on appeal to the Board of Supervisors (shown in track changes). " (The 2 items added did not relate to visitation numbers.) The actual effect of the change was to double the amount of tours-and-tastings visitation allowed.

I don't think that an increase in visitation was intended as part of the appeal. In the agenda letter for the appeal references are made to the Modified conditions of Approval (p. 6-7). None of those references acknowledge any changes to visitation.

As you know better than I, getting and changing use-permits in the county is a horribly convoluted process, and it is quite possible that changes in visitation from the original use-permit were discussed and vetted in some public way (like the horse trading all too common at the end of hearings), and that we on Soda Canyon Road just missed it.

But I will need to ask the county what happened here: why was the visitation allowed to double even though no apparent request to do so had been made? If it was inadvertent, what responsibility does the county have to correct the mistake. If it was done intentionally, what responsibility does the county have for a bit more transparency in its approval process.

Bill Hocker

On Feb 25, 2021, at 11:29 AM, Michael Freeman wrote:

Mr. Hocker,

My name is Michael Freeman and I am the CEO of The Caves at Soda Canyon.

I wanted to take a moment and reach out to you and say hello.

I realize that in the past, relations between The Caves and our neighbors have not always been as good as they could, or should be.

Since we reorganized in 2018 and Ryan Waugh departed from The Caves and I assumed the position of CEO, one of my goals has been and continues to be mending relations and being the best neighbor we can be.

I came across the post you authored on [the original post below] and wanted to open a discussion with you.

While it is true that we are seeking permission to increase our daily visitation on a seasonal basis, there seems to be a little misunderstanding. Currently, we are permitted for a maximum of 140 visitors per week, though in your post you state that we are currently permitted for only 70 visitors per week. I also think it important to point out that for the rest of the year, we are offering to reduce our permitted visitation from the current 140 to 80 visitors per week.

We did this consciously as it is not our intention to increase our overall annual permitted visitation numbers but rather to reallocate our existing permissions to be aligned with the seasonality of our business. Similarly, we did not request any increase in marketing events.

I realize you and some of our other neighbors would prefer there not be winery development on Soda Canyon Road, but I am hopeful, as I previously wrote, that we can open a discussion and together find the best path forward as good neighbors and to the extent possible, minimize any “friction” between us. I assure you that is definitely what we want to do.

I am available to speak with you whenever you like. I can be reached by email at or by phone at 707-861-8100 x 702.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like.

Best regards,


Original Post 2/19/21
A County courtesy notice has just been sent out for a proposed major modification of the use permit for The Caves of Soda Canyon. The notice is here.

The request is to increase visitation for seven months of the year from 70/140* vis/wk to 250 vis/wk, and visitation for the rest of the year from 70/140* vis/wk to 80 vis/wk, add 7 parking places, add 7 more employees, and a continuation of the road and street exceptions for its very substandard driveway.

The winery is an icon in the county for its chutzpah incrementalism, use-permit non-compliance and neighbor aggravaiton on a remote and difficult-to-access site that should never have been used for a custom crush facility.

* Note there is some concern at to why the allowed visitation was increased from 70 to 140 vis/wk at the time that the appeal of the generator issue was resolved on 2/27/18, desite no request to increase visitation. I'll have more once the county has clarified what happened.

copyright ©