Napa supervisors back some changes to winery ordinance

NAPA -- The Napa County Board of Supervisors tentatively agreed last week that provisions of the Winery Definition Ordinance should be amended to ease marketing restrictions, which would include business meetings, potentially clearing one more hurdle for individual wineries to target visitors more aggressively.

An official vote is expected sometime in April.

“We’re extraordinarily pleased with the consensus,” said Rex Stults of the Napa Valley Vintners Association. “At the end of the day, it was great to see all sides come into the hearing in lockstep in our opinions. Hopefully the heavy lifting is over.”

Before the meeting last week, four core elements were being considered as possible changes to the WDO - relaxed marketing rules, the allowance of business meetings on the agricultural preserve, doing away with appointment-only signs for tastings and the creation of an independent special events permit, or SEP, for cultural events such as weddings.

The SEP was scrapped as a result of little interest from the main parties involved in the debate: the Napa Valley Vintners Association, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Napa County Farm Bureau and the Winegrowers of Napa County.

As a result, weddings and similar events will be permitted only at wineries that have held such activities prior to 1974, Mr. Stults said. Instead of an SEP, supervisors suggested the county work more closely with the Napa Valley Destination Council as a way to increase tourism revenue. The Destination Council is separately seeking approval for a Tourism Business Improvement District, which would promote the entire country as a destination.

The business meetings would be included within the WDO, a departure from just the week before when such meetings were thought to have been too broad to be addressed as part of the revamped WDO.

But clear agreement on what constitutes a meeting allowed for some maneuvering within the WDO, Mr. Stults said. The amended ordinance would place business meetings within the marketing definition, stipulating that “marketing of wine may include social and cultural events” that relate directly to the education and “development of customers and potential customers provided such events are clearly incidental, related and subordinate to the primary use of the winery.” In its previous form, cultural and social events were prohibited.

Additionally, wineries would be able to offer food and wine pairings as part of a marketing tool, so long as the service doesn’t charge beyond cost recovery. The same condition would hold for business meetings as well.

With respect to the appointment-only signs in place for wine tastings and tours, supervisors said they would support the removal of them, but concern is still centered on potential traffic increases and environmental impact.  The supervisors’ support for removal of the signs is contingent upon the cost of traffic studies.

The Napa County Planning Commission will present an analysis with ideas on how to pay for a traffic report at a later meeting.

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