NapaVision 2050: Remote Winery Streamlining: A Fast Track to Disaster & Death Traps?

UPDATE ON Sonoma County fire safe roads plan:


The State Board of Forestry has NOT certified the newest Sonoma County fire regulations which the BOS adopted in December of 2019, but returned the proposed ordinance with many check marks showing its deficiencies and incompatibilities with state law. This means that the State regs will be in effect until the state certifies a revised ordinance from SC or County Counsel persuades the Board of Forestry that the December ordinance is equal to or exceeds the State regs. Board of Forestry will likely put certificaton on the APril 7-8th agenda in Sacramento and the public may attend and comment.    

Remote Winery Streamlining: A Fast Track to Disaster & Death Traps? 


In a rare act of upholding an appeal by citizens, on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, the Board of Supervisors unanimously overturned the permitting of Hard Six Cellars Winery . The small winery and vineyard are on steep, narrow, winding, substandard, dead-end Diamond Mountain Road. The negatively mitigated project with road and street exceptions had been approved by the Planning Commission in a 4-1 vote on October 16, 2019.

“…the Planning Commission ignored virtually all of the substantial evidence presented by Opponents pertaining to the public safety, environmental, and other adverse impacts that the Project is likely to create, and in so doing violated numerous provisions of the NCC, the WDO, and the General Plan in approving the Project,” the appellants stated in the appeal packet.

The Planning Commission has approved various negatively mitigated projects requiring Road and Street exceptions, as well as variances, in our fragile, remote hillsides and watersheds often thought to be protected by the zoning designations of our Ag Preserve. 

“I just don’t believe this is the right place for a winery to go,” Supervisor Dillon said. “We are protecting what some people call a national treasure.” She also said that she, “can’t live with the possibility of someone being caught in that location during a fire.”

Supervisor Wagenknect said Hard Six Cellars Winery crosses the line of what he can see working. Supervisor Pedroza agreed.

Just a week before, the Planning Commission again unanimously approved a contentious and complex expansion of Anthem Winery, already permitted at 30K gallonage. Apparently, the commissioners approved a new entry using a narrow, flag-pole, substandard driveway that illegally crosses a residential easement and requires 16 various road and street exceptions.

Shockingly, although approved, details were left to the owner of the easement and the applicants to be worked out. Although the applicants finally accepted their previously permitted 30K gallonage, only about a third of which can be grown on-site (and opening the door to custom crush) they were granted visitation of 7623 marketing visitors per year. Despite fire expert David Rich’s (REAX Engineering) caution that no more than 50 people should be present at the relatively high wildfire risk site for any one event, they were granted one 100 person marketing event.  In compensation, supervising planner Charlene Gallina quickly offered to draw up a training protocol for the evacuation of visitors in the case of an emergency. What? Is she qualified to draw up emergency evacuation training manuals? So who is responsible in the sad case of injury or loss of life in such an emergency? 

In response to neighbors’ comments about the fire danger and change that this remotely-accessed winery would bring, Commissioner Hansen (3:07 in the planning commission video) said “I’ve heard several comments today about the “remote” winery issue. As a reminder, a remote winery has not been defined by policy that I am aware of. …We don’t have a policy regarding remote wineries…it is not my place to define a remote winery based on concerns or needs or whatever else is going on…”

We think it is high time to acknowledge that there is indeed a definition of remote wineries and it exists in the 2010 revision of the Winery Definition Ordinance:

…“to ensure that the intensity of winery activities is appropriately scaled, the County considers the remoteness of the location and the amount of wine to be produced at a facility when reviewing use permit proposals, and endeavors to ensure a direct relationship between access constraints and on-site marketing and visitation programs.”
– WDO section III

The county’s permitting of Mountain Peak Winery , another remotely-accessed project at the end of the six-mile, dead-end Soda Canyon Road , was remanded by the court back to the Board of Supervisors to consider the fire dangers and evacuations of the area that occurred in the October 2017 fires, shortly after the appeal of the project to the BOS was not upheld. 

In addition, an upcoming Napa County Planning Commission hearing for the  Mondavi Aloft  proposal for rural Angwin on April 1, 2020, presents similar challenges and dangers. Neighbors have set up a gofundme page to assist with legal and consultation fees necessary to protect their neighborhood.

We are in a period in which we can expect more fire danger as well as the pressures of dreamers wanting their hillside vineyards and wineries permitted, regardless of the consequences.

Residents and applicants alike are bearing the costs of this lack of responsibility and coordination between our Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.  

Still, this last week, the Board of Supervisors upheld the citizens’ Hard Six Cellars Winery appeal. Thank you! We need you to protect our environment and our citizens.  In this time of an impending drought cycle, super fires and challenged water resources, may this be only the beginning.  

Questions and Definitions
A Rocky Road of Resistance?
The Need for A “Remote Winery” Definition Ordinance

Looking back at the BOS meeting on Tues Sep 25, 2018, Planning Director Morrison requested direction from the Supervisors on a possible “remote winery” ordinance which might give more specificity to the meaning of the remote winery guidance issues. See the details of his thoughtful letter to the Board of Supervisors here.Sadly, the result of this request, and discussion? “No Action Taken.” This leaves our county stuck in a position where questionable developments are approved, then appealed, then sent to court, then back to the Board of Supervisors in a messy game that ends with a hefty cost to residents who are burdened by the battle and/or the damaging results as well as the applicants who have endured this ping-pong permitting debacle.

Although applicants may well be able to afford these trials, local neighbors often cannot easily afford these battles, although they are forced to hire consultants, engineers, fire experts and attorneys (and then accrue debts), all in order to have their voices heard and take action to protect their beloved communities. Is this fair to either party? 

Too often, nature loses, residents lose, and we ask, who wins? The winery with the most money? This oft-repeated situation is not effective and proactive land use management, which is what our Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission are tasked with doing, with care and wisdom. They need definitions and guidance on issues such as this in order to do the best job possible.

What do you think? 
See what others have said here and here.