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New Winery Approved On Diamond Mountain Near Calistoga

by Kerana Todorov
October 21, 2019
Location of the planned Hard Six Cellars winery. Photo submitted by applicant to Napa County.

The Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday approved a remote winery on top of Diamond Mountain over the strong objections of immediate neighbors. The vote was 4-1.

Vintners Wayne and Kara Fingerman won the greenlight to build Hard Six Cellars winery to process up to 20,000 gallons of wine, including their existing label. The estate already features 4 acres of planted vineyards and a residence.

The plans approved Wednesday include a two-story, 3,969-square-foot winery; a 1,185-square foot hospitality area; about 5,480 square feet of outdoor work space; and a 7,135 square-foot winery cave. An existing driveway will have to be improved and a new wastewater system and storage tanks constructed. One of the tanks will be a 50,000-gallon fire protection water storage tank.

The Hard Six Cellars site is off the south fork of Diamond Mountain Road, more than 2 miles from Highway 29/St. Helena Highway. It is to be open seven days a week.

The Fingermans have permission to host up to 16 visitors per day, seven days a week. The winery agreed to have a maximum of 80 visitors a week instead of 112 as it originally sought.

In addition, Hard Six Cellars can host two marketing events a year for up to 75 guests. The Fingermans first asked for four such events. The winery also can invite up to 125 guests for one “auction” event per year. These visitors will reach the winery by shuttle.

Among the applicants’ supporters including Jackson Family Wines, which owns 31 acres on Diamond Mountain.

A neighbor, winemaker Ketan Mody, said he grows grapes on Diamond Mountain but makes his wine in Sonoma County. He would love the opportunity to crush his grapes close to home, possibly at the Fingermans’ winery.

But other neighbors said the project is too big and would be harmful to the environment, including well water. The applicants should be required to conduct an in-depth environmental impact report – or EIR, some argued.

Access is narrow, rural road with no outlet other than downhill, they said. That poses a danger for visitors unfamiliar with the turns and other vehicles such as delivery trucks that will haul fruit to the winery.

“We’re not against the endeavor. We’re mainly against the size,” said Charles de Limur. “This is actually too big for the site. It has problems that are really systemic to life, safety and the enjoyment of everybody on the hill.”

Another neighbor, Martin Checov, said the application should either be rejected or scaled back.

Planning Commissioner Anne Cottrell was the sole dissenter, raising safety concern about the trucks that will bring fruit to the winery along the steep, narrow and windy Diamond Mountain Road. She acknowledged the applicants’ willingness to decrease the number of allowed visitors to the winery. “But it does feel at this point, in my review, too big a project for the access that has to occur to get to the site.”

Chairwoman Joelle Gallagher said the application was a “tough one,” noting that Diamond Mountain Road is in places a one-lane roadway. But, she added, “We’re not going to widen every road to be a two-lane roadway either.”

There is no policy in place to deny the project, Gallagher also said, noting the winery is in on a site zoned agricultural. “I’m not terribly comfortable with it but I also don’t feel like I have a lot of policy backing at this point. But I think it really illustrates the need to have more discussion and for the Board (of Supervisors) to certainly have more discussion about these remote locations.”

Planning Commission Dave Whitmer supported the application and voted with the majority.

“A 20,000-gallon winery in my estimation is not a huge ask,” Whitmer said. “And I agree that the site is remote but that is the character of the Napa Valley,” he said. “I think this is appropriately zoned,” he said.
Commissioner Jeri Hansen also voted for the project. Speaking before Gallagher, she noted the Napa County Board of Supervisors has not defined the term “remote winery.” The Planning Commission should not create “broader policy” when evaluating projects, she said.

Another commissioner, Andrew Mazotti, referring to the road said “that this is what we deal with in the Napa Valley.”

“While it’s not ideal, the road seems adequate to me,” Mazotti said.

Food pairings during wine tastings are allowed, Mazotti said. “I would hope that pairings that you are envisioning are not substantial,” Mazotti said. The primary “food activity” should take place in the cities, he said.

The neighbors were not sure that they will do next. We might sell the property,” said Checov after the vote “and find some place else that’s peaceful.”

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