Ellman winery revamp wins Napa County approval

Lance and Neil Ellman decided the Soda Canyon winery they had approved by Napa County in 2019 needed a revamp before they ever built it.

Since the original approval, the Ellman brothers have bought more land, and that's made a difference. They asked the county to allow them to move the winery, make it slightly bigger and move the entrance from Silverado Trail to Soda Canyon Road.

The new setup allows them to build the winery without removing 2.86 acres of vineyard. Instead, they plan to add just under an acre of vineyard, for a total of about 10 acres.

They didn't ask to change the previous approvals for maximum annual wine production at 30,000 gallons and maximum annual visitation at 4,305 guests.

A revamped Ellman winery won support from the Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday. The commission found nothing to debate.

"To be able to save almost 3 acres of vineyard in this new design is a plus for me," Planning Commissioner Dave Whitmer said.

Plus, he said, he is pleased that production and visitation numbers weren't proposed to increase.

Neighbor Nicole Hinton had concerns about adding more traffic at this location. One existing problem is making left turns safely from Soda Canyon Road onto busy Silverado Trail, she said.

But the idea of installing a traffic signal at Silverado Trail and Soda Canyon Road didn't gain traction.

Mark Crane of Crane Transportation Group addressed the issue on behalf of the applicants. He agreed traffic volumes at this intersection could warrant a signal.

"However, you get the same result from every major intersection along Silverado Trail, up and down the valley," he said.

County Public Works isn't interested in a signal, he said. However, the applicant as part of the original application installed a refuge lane on Silverado Trail at the intersection that can be used by drivers making a left turn from Soda Canyon Road, he said.

Neil Ellman during the 2019 Planning Commission hearing said his family has made wine in Napa Valley since 2007. In 2015, they learned about the Silverado Trail/Soda Canyon property.

"We knew it was a special property," he said. "But we didn't know how special it was until we started farming it to a very high level. The next natural step to make the wines we want to make is to build this winery, control our own production, control our own quality...."

The Planning Commission liked the idea in 2019. If anything, the commission on Wednesday saw the revised plan as an improvement.

The Planning Commission has five seats, but only Whitmer, chairperson Megan Dameron and Commissioner Andrew Mazotti currently sit on the commission. Two seats are vacant because Anne Cottrell and Joelle Gallagher were elected to the Board of Supervisors.

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