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The Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday voted 5-0 to approve a use permit for Amorim Cork America to build a 48,133-square-foot cork finishing and distribution facility in south Napa.

Amorim purchased the 3.36-acre industrial-zoned parcel, located between Devlin Road and Highway 29, on Nov. 30 [see "Amorim buys south Napa land for expansion," Dec. 12] and submitted a project application on Dec. 9. Harvey Shein of Glen Ellen was the development consultant.

The new facility is designed for 42,000 square feet of warehousing, processing, shipping and receiving space, four truck-high and two grade-level loading docks, and 6,200 square feet of administrative offices, according to the document. The new plant can employ 27.

The company is one of the U.S. distribution arms of Amorim Group of Portugal. The other is Portocork America, which also expanded its south Napa facility last year.***

The U.S. Treasury Department Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau completed its initial review of the American Viticultural Area petitions for Big Valley District -- Lake County and Kelsey Bench -- Lake County, located west and southwest, respectively, of Mt. Konocti on the south shore of Clear Lake, according to the Lake County Winegrape Commission.

The agency informed the commission in a Jan. 30 letter that the petitions for establishment of the AVAs "meet TTB’s regulatory requirements for AVA petitions."

More than 50 winegrape growers in the Big Valley area would benefit if the AVA designation is obtained, according to Shannon Gunier, commission president.***

The European Union and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Germany recently signed an organic equivalence arrangement. Certified organic products as of June 1 will be able to be moved freely between U.S. and E.U. borders. The E.U. will recognize the USDA National Organic Program as equivalent to the EU Organic Program and allow products produced and certified as meeting U.S. standards to be marketed as organic in the E.U., and vice versa. To facilitate trade, the E.U. and the U.S. have agreed to promote electronic certification of import records.***

Recently introduced legislation in Sacramento would reimburse farmers for costs associated with transitioning land to certified organic production. Called the California Transition to Organics Act of 2012, the bill would create a new state Transition to Organics Fund administered by the state Food and Agriculture Department.

Introduced Feb. 9 by Assemblymembers Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, and Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, Assembly Bill 1625 would create the fund from federal, industry and citizen sources but not the state General Fund, according to Mr. Allen. The fund would reimburse 25 percent of certification costs, including inspection, certification and registration fees.

Mr. Allen said farmers making the transition already face higher costs for soil amendments and pest control during the three-year required timeframe for certification. Farmers providing false information could face civil penalties.***

Paul Dolan has left Ukiah-based Mendocino Wine Co. as a partner and president, according to Chairman and founding Chief Executive Officer Tom Thornhill in a letter to the trade posted on the company website. Mr. Thornhill said the company will still distribute the Paul Dolan Vineyards brand and continue to source virtually all grapes for the brand from Mendocino County certified organic and Biodynamic grapes.***

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, a Napa-based importer for family-owned Italian wineries, said the number of cases it sold in the U.S. last year broke the 300,000 milestone, a 900 percent increase in depletions over a 10-year period. In December, Dalla Terra depleted as much wine in one month as they did in all of 2001 -- 32,150 cases. Gross sales revenue for the year was $25 million, a 15 percent increase from 2010. ***

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation recognized Gallo of Sonoma with a 2011 Integrated Pest Management Innovator Award for leadership in reducing pesticide use.

The department noted Gallo's seven vineyards in Sonoma County for minimizing pesticide use and exceeding requirements to protect worker safety. The company converted to double-row spray rigs to reduce to a single pass of herbicide in the vineyard. The company provides funding and support for pocket gopher studies on its Laguna Ranch. Other examples include using falcons for starling prevention, and integrated Pierce’s disease management and removal plans. Prevention practices include installation of owl boxes and raptor perches for rodent control, and the release of predacious mites.

The department also recognized the city of Palo Alto, county of Marin and Sunwest Fruit Co. Marin County adopted an IPM policy in 1983, followed in 1998 with an IPM ordinance requiring all county departments to comply with IPM standards. Pesticide use on county-owned, managed or leased property fell by 90 percent in the last 10 years.***

Viader Winery in Napa County's Howell Mountain appellation commissioned France-based Fruition Sciences to study distinguishing grapegrowing features of Viader's vineyards.***Wine People

Patz & Hall of Napa named James McCeney assistant winemaker, working with winemaker James Hall. Mr. McCeney first began working in the wine industry at the age of 14 as vineyard and cellar help at Maryland’s Basignani Winery, where he worked until graduating from Boston College with a degree in environmental geology. He has a degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis....

Submit items for this column to Business Journal Staff Writer Jeff Quackenbush, 707-521-4256 or jquackenbush@busjrnl.com.