Napa supervisors eye winery visitor impacts

NAPA -- Amid calls for a moratorium on new vineyards and wineries in Napa County because of concerns about visitor traffic and water shortages, county government's top decision-makers on such projects directed staff to give them a clearer view on the situation by this fall and develop solutions for streamlining the environmental-review process and informing more neighbors about project proposals.

[caption id="attachment_92880" align="alignright" width="180"] Mark Luce[/caption]

Concerns about how the wine industry grows and uses land in Napa County have been around as far back as the establishment of the trailblazing agricultural preserve in 1968 and the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO) of 1990 plus subsequent additions. But they have reached a new fervor in the past few years, as direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing, particularly exclusive experiences on estate property, is seen as the lifeline for the luxury side of the business, a local plan for greenhouse-gas emissions curtailment emerges and California's farms are being increasingly scrutinized for use of groundwater, especially in a year with a governor's emergency drought declaration.[poll id="121"]

The confluence of all these streams of public policy flowed through a joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission on May 20. The two meet annually in May and October to discuss land-use planning issues, but the urgency of this meeting was exacerbated by increasing public complaints that they aren't finding out about wine-related projects soon enough, concern from applicants that the environmental review process was taking too long, neighbor worries about new wells and effects on aquifers, a number of appeals of project approvals and rise in the hospitality-related elements of projects.

"The question is, are we at capacity for vineyard acreage, and what are the cumulative impacts?" said Mark Luce, board chairman, after an hour of discussion among the supervisors, commissioners and staff. "What is the relationship between visitation and impacts? Do we start increasing acreage requirements?"

[caption id="attachment_92879" align="alignright" width="160"] Bill Dodd[/caption]

Supervisor Bill Dodd said he had discussed with former Supervisor Mel Varrelman in 2002 about doubling the minimum property size for winery proposals outside the urban areas to 20 acres, because proposals were coming in for 10-acre properties with fewer than 10 acres of vines. Mr. Dodd suggested temporary limitations on wineries built on hillsides until the groundwater situation is addressed and requiring wineries to use grapes off their own properties in the county.

"It may not alleviate everything, but it might take a lot of heartburn out of it for more people," he said.

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