Winery Proposed Atop Yountville Hills

Winery veterans outline plan for 100,000-gallon facility on 10.9-acre site

by Paul Franson
Much of the proposed Yountville Hills Winery would be underground and not visible from Highway 29.
Napa, Calif.—Two veterans of the wine business have filed an application with Napa County to build a new winery with an annual production of 100,000 gallons atop the northwest Yountville hill opposite Mustards Grill.

CS2 Wines LLC (owned by Eric Sklar of St. Helena, Calif., a former owner of Alpha Omega Winery, and Prescott Ashe, who owns Prescott Ashe Vineyards) proposed the Yountville Hill Winery.

The location just past Yountville, Calif., and the hills that form a gateway to the upper Napa Valley would likely make the site a top visitor destination. The site would total 10.9 acres from two combined parcels, narrowly meeting the 10 acres required by the county for a winery in unincorporated areas.

There has been increasing opposition to wineries designed to attract tourists on property that doesn’t contain vineyards, as the original intent of tight local regulations was to permit wineries to process grapes from on-site. However, the project would have a 2-acre vineyard on the flat portion next to Highway 29.  In addition, Sklar and Prescott said in the application that they own more than 30 acres of vineyards and are seeking to buy 100 additional acres.

Plans for development
Little of the facility would be visible from Highway 29. The production winery would be built largely underground, but the owners still would need approval to allow exceptions to a number of county regulations.

They plan two new winery buildings with 14,000 square feet of floor area, including a 1,200-square-f00t reception building and a 12,800-square-foot winery, administration and visitor center building with 9,600 square feet of unenclosed terraces.

They also would dig 36,000 square feet of caves, including a prep kitchen, and have 37 on-site parking spaces.

The applicants also have an aggressive marketing plan, with 48 events per year and a maximum of 50 guests at each event (half of the events would be scheduled to begin after 6:30 p.m.); six events per year for a maximum of 100 guests at each event; two events per year for a maximum of 200 guests at each event; two wine auction events per year and tours and tastings, which may include by-appointment-only food pairing for a maximum of 285 visitors per day with up to 1,120 visitors per week (110 per day Monday through Friday).

According to the plans filed with the county, Yountville Hill Winery would serve wine by the glass in the visitor center and on the patio. Wineries with views may offer tasting, but not drinking, as this is a new privilege for California wineries with secondary tasting areas and special licensing, and few wineries in Napa County have applied to serve wines by the glass.

Changes needed
To accomplish all this, the proposal seeks exception to conservation regulations for grade/construction improvements. The Napa County planning staff found, however, that the project complies with requirements of the Winery Definition Ordinance and the remainder of the Napa County Zoning Ordinance. The Winery Definition Ordinance was established to protect agriculture and open space and to regulate winery development and expansion in a manner that avoids potential negative environmental effects.

It also concluded that given the topography of the site, caves are preferable and present less of an impact than would additional above-grade floor area. The staff added that the developers have proposed mitigation for other potential exceptions to rules.

An existing 4,000-square-foot residence (the former Castle in the Clouds bed and breakfast) and garage, the existing driveway from State Route 29 to the structures, and a cave will be removed as part of the proposal to facilitate construction of the winery, a new driveway and associated improvements.

The County of Napa Planning Division will take comments until April 16.

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