Napa County Rejects Winery Project

Planning Commission rejects petition for 300,000-gallon incubator winery near Calistoga, encourages applicants to redesign

by Paul Franson
Flynnville Winery
The Flynnville Winery project petitioned to produce 300,000 gallons of wine per year.
Napa, Calif.—A proposed winery project of the type springing up in wine regions from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Washington state was soundly rejected by the Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday, even while they acknowledged that it would be welcomed at another site.

Members even chastised the applicants for wasting the commission’s time with a completely unsuitable project.

The plan
The proposal was for a single custom-crush winery subdivided into 14 individual spaces spread between four buildings on a 12-acre site on Highway 29 between Drew and Maple lanes near Calistoga. The area now contains numerous non-conforming buildings and activities. The project also would have boasted an event center and commercial kitchen as well as a water-treatment system and holding pond.

The site consists of eight non-conforming parcels, which would be merged into one of 11.84 acres, large enough to host a winery. (One narrow parcel holds a private road, to which neighbors have easements.)

The proposed winery cluster would have a residential appearance with typical local stone and wood buildings and landscaping. It would include a three-story tower reminiscent of the valley’s once-ubiquitous water towers. Numerous trees would be removed, including native oaks, but would be replaced two for one with trees native to the area.

Before the implementation of the Agricultural Preserve in 1968, the property was used for industry and commercial uses, which were allowed to continue unless abandoned, which some were, but not expanded.

The applicant was PD Development, whose partners include Dan Piña and Ignacio Delgado with consultant winemaker Cary Gott. Piña also owns Napa Wooden Box Co.

The Flynnville Winery project, named after its former owner, petitioned to produce 300,000 gallons of wine per year.

Napa County allows one winery per 10-acre parcel in its unincorporated agricultural preserve and agricultural watershed (hillside and mountain) zones, and typically allows production o about 20,000 gallons per small winery. The Flynnville site is partially in each zone.

The group also asked for 33% coverage of the site with buildings and other development, whereas the legal limit is 25%. (Its 82,236 square feet of winery buildings were to include a 2,477-square-foot welcome center, a 4,015-square-foot hospitality building and 5,730 square feet of covered crush pad area as well as the individual winery spaces.)

It also requested a maximum of 500 visitors per weekend day and 350 visitors per weekday plus one 500-person event per year, five 250-person events per year, eight 100-person events per year, eight 50-person events per year and two 25-person events per year.

The county typically allows new wineries very restricted visitation and events.

The plan also proposed to construct 109 parking spaces. It did not include any vineyards, though vines have been planted on the site in the past, as have orchards.

Finally, the applicants asked for a variance to construct the winery 136 feet within the 600-foot setback from State Highway 29, 124 feet within the 300-foot setback from adjacent Maple Lane and 94 feet within the 300-foot setback from Drew Lane. Observing the setbacks would allow it very little space for development.

Grape sources and neighbors
Flynnville Winery
The Flynnville Winery proposal was for a single custom-crush winery subdivided into 14 individual spaces spread between four buildings on a 12-acre site on Highway 29 between Drew and Maple lanes near Calistoga.
The county requires that 75% of grapes used in new winery projects come from Napa County. The applicants said they would comply but do not have any tenants signed, so they couldn’t demonstrate compliance.

Neighboring landowner Peter Heitz estimated that it would take 350 acres of new vineyards to make the 300,000 gallons of wine requested. It’s very difficult to plant new vineyards in Napa County, where land costs up to $300,000 per acre and significant environmental restrictions apply.

Heitz added, “I have a 12-acre parcel. Can I request a megawinery with 14 tasting rooms, too? It leads us down a slippery slope. Every 10-acre site would want to do the same.”

The property is surrounded by vineyards, homes and the Napa River, and neighbors said it has frequently flooded. Civil engineer Dan Drew, son of an adjacent homeowner, claimed that the plan’s provision for water was vastly inadequate.

The applicants, however, pointed out that their project would replace a nonconforming use—a collection of deteriorating warehouses and other buildings that can’t be put to other uses—with a conforming use, processing of agricultural products. The alternative could be up to 19 residential units, which they contended would be a less-desirable use to the county.

Consultant Gott said that the primary target for tenants would be small wineries that are now making their wine at custom-crush sites but would like to be able to more fully control their winemaking and marketing, so they already have grapes lined up. He claimed that three of his clients were interested in the project, and another emailed him to agree during the hearing.

Though the project has been under consideration since 2006, with a permit application submitted in July 2012, the neighbors only learned about it recently, when the county sent notices of the proposed use.

Many neighbors and neighboring landowners spoke passionately against the proposal at the hearing, though some said they’d be delighted to see a suitable winery replace the present eyesore.

They asked for an Environmental Impact Report on the project, notably on water usage. This is an expensive and time-consuming process developers prefer to avoid.

The decision
Members of the Planning Commission agreed that the project was overblown. They were unanimous in their displeasure over the proposal (one withdrew as she does business with Piña’s box company).

Planning commissioner Mike Basayne said, “It’s way out of proportion. It needs to be cut back substantially.”

Commissioner Bob Fiddaman chastised the applicants for even asking for so much. “This concept may make sense elsewhere like the airport industrial area, but it’s a huge threat to the (Napa County) Winery Definition Ordinance and the Agricultural Preserve.  It’s real commercial activity in the Ag Preserve.”

Commissioner Matt Pope added, “The airport area is the place for incubator space.”

Finally, commissioner Basayne added, “There’s a need for incubator space—wine ghettos, if you will—but not at this location. It belongs in an industrial area.”

Indeed, the owners of the Meritage Hotel and Trinitas Cellars have proposed a similar wine village in the Napa Commons business and industrial park in the southern part of the city of Napa, though ironically that site doesn’t allow winery production at present.

Surprise twist
So why did the applicants present a proposal that seemed so far out of Napa Valley’s standards? It turns out that the planning staff encouraged them.

The county’s deputy planning director, John McDowell, explained that they get a lot of questions about how a small winery can find its own space in a very expensive valley. “The concept had merit to me. It seemed like a good idea,” McDowell said. “It seemed a way to help smaller wineries, and in the process keep some from taking vineyard land to build their own wineries.”

Commissioner Matt Pope disagreed, “It looks like a big marketing center in the Ag Preserve. Precedence sets policy, but sometimes you have to set policy first,” implying that the staff was trying to set policy. 

Developer Piña admitted that he and his partners didn’t communicate well with neighbors and others on the project. “We made a lot of mistakes, but we’re not professional developers, just local people in the wine business. Pro developers wouldn’t have made those mistakes. They would have sold the project to neighbors and the community first.” He added, “We’re willing to make changes to move forward.”

He will have to if the project is to continue. “I look forward to a dramatic revision,” commissioner Basayne said before the commission unanimously rejected the application. 

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