NAPA – Napa Valley Vintners, a trade group representing more than 350 local wine producers, is working with related organizations – Winegrowers of Napa County, Napa County Farm Bureau and Napa Valley Grapegrowers – to present the Napa County Board of Supervisors with a thorough analysis of the 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance by late January.
The process started early this fall when the supervisors were prepared to vote on a proposal from a group of caterers, events planners, florists and other hospitality businesses that target eno-tourism to test a relaxing of restrictions on certain events such as weddings.
The wine and agriculture trade groups plan to meet Dec. 11 to formulate a joint recommendation to the county supervisors.
David Aten has been the spokesman for the group of hospitality-related companies that put forward the proposed change to the ordinance. The Napa-based events planner has exclusive relationships with eight wineries in the valley.
“Everyone there is under your corporate umbrella, and you are pouring your wines when guests are there no matter the reason,” Mr. Aten said about for-profit and other events largely prohibited from wineries approved for operation after 1974. “Visitors will walk away and remember your wine.”
The 14-page WDO defines what is meant by “winery” – processing facility for wine – “marketing” – not for profit and mainly for the trade, previous customers and education – and “accessory use.” The document lays out minimum property size and what can be sold in any tasting room or retail venue.
The ordinance has faced challenges in recent years from wineries looking to establish restaurants and a new state law that allows picnicking on winery land.
Chiles Valley winegrape grower Volker Eisele was part of the discussions and crafting of the careful wording of the original ordinance starting in 1988. He’s part of a Napa Valley Vintners task force giving it a fresh look. He said he is convinced the document continues to be sufficient.
“Everything has to be geared toward wine,” Mr. Eisele said. “If you have an event for profit – say, a wedding – the central focus is the wedding and not the wine. Wine becomes incidental.”
The discussions that will take place in coming months about the causes of economic woes for the hospitality industry in Napa Valley have to consider the original goal of the ordinance to protect agricultural land for agricultural activities, according to Mr. Eisele.
Disregarding that, he said, could lead to overcrowding of rural roadways and operations that are more about attraction than fermentation.
Ed Matovcik, vice president of government and community relations for the Foster’s Wine Estates portfolio of brands, also is part of the Napa Valley Vintners task force on the ordinance. He agrees with Mr. Eisele that it protects ag land, but he thinks the document should evolve to match current market conditions.
“The WDO was an important tool 20 years ago in protecting the ag preserve, but the industry has changed in the way wine is marketed and sold,” he said. “Twenty years ago, wineries primarily sold their wines through distributors and the three-tier system, and there was no Internet”selling.