The Winery Hotel
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Bill Hocker | Mar 14, 2024

NVR 3/114/24: Developers want St. Helena voters to determine fate of Wine Train/Charles Krug hotel

The developers have obviously made the calculation that it's much easier to bamboozle a majority of the small number voters in St. Helena with campaign ads, than to comply with public ordinances and state environmental review. The price of deciding the future of a place by the amount of TOT promised is that the town will eventually be owned by the tourism industry, while residents that just want to live in a real community will be priced out or will sell out.

Every major tourism project has impacts to traffic, water resources, workforce infrastructure and overall quality of life that affects more than just the residents of one town, and those residents should also have a forum to voice their concerns and have them weighed. The desire of the few to hasten their return on investment should not be a priority in urbanization projects that will change the lives of the many forever. A thorough public planning review process insures that every impact is vetted.

If the initiative is successful it will set an obvious precedent for every other project in the pipeline at both the city and county level, to circumvent the regulations that for the last 50 years have hindered the urbanization of the county into a Las Vegas of wine.

NVR 10/12/23: St. Helena hotel proposal at Charles Krug Winery to be revealed Oct. 25

As we have seen in the last several years, the first proposals are now being realized for the development of hotels designed to extend the hospitality functions, and brand associations, of wineries into lodging. The propossed Hall Winery Hotel, Inn at the Abby, and The Farmstead Hotel are each being developed by wine corporations on properties adjacent to their wineries. We now have the corporation that owns the wine train partnering with Charles Krug in this next phase of the complete absorption of Napa's agricultural economy into the umbrella of its tourism economy.

As wineries have continued to morph into restaurants (after changes to the Winery Definition Ordinance in 2010), lodging is the next logical step in what can only be envisoned as a transition to a Las Vegas of Wine. As noted in our article here, tourism revenues in Las Vegas rose above gambling revenues in 1999 and the ratio has steadly increased since. In 2023, gambling revenues were at $8 billion. Tourism revenues were at $44 billion. Right now the ratio of tourism to wine sales in Napa County are at parity, much like Las vegas in 1999: $2.2b billion in tourism and $2.3 billion in wine. It is obvious why the corporate wine industry wants to get into hotels. There's much more money yet to be made from the Napa brand than the limited acreage of Napa grapes can possibly generate.

All of the corporations proposing winery hotels at this point are well known major players with the capital, caché and political muscle to put into hotel development. And all of the hotel properties, though adjacent to agriculturally zoned winery buildings, are not on agriculturally zoned lands, and hence can be developed under existing zoning. But it's just a matter of time before the 500-1000 other wineries now in the county feel they are being dissed by being denied the source of the new money to be made here from full-on agritourism. Already the county has given budding, but less plutocratic, entrepreneurs a small-winery ordinance and a micro-winery ordinance to boost their dreams of tapping into the wine-tourism economy. Demands for winery B&B's are sure to follow.

The County General Plan is coming up for amendment in the next year. There will undoubtedly be pressure once again to modify the definition of agriculture to allow ever increasing types of tourism to fit within the ag zoning designations so that politicians and entrepreneurs can proudly claim that they support agriculture as they turn what's left of the bucolic Napa Valley into an un-charming, high-rise, congested, urban money machine.

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