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Napa Planning Commission Tells Caldwell Vineyards to Rework Expansion Application

Caldwell Vineyards now processes a portion of its estate grapes, selling the rest of its fruit; it is also a custom-crush facility. Its goal is to convert the winery to an exclusive estate production facility
by Kerana Todorov
March 09, 2018

A Napa winery seeking the green light to produce more wine and welcome more visitors to boost its direct-to-consumer sales has been sent back to the drawing board.

Caldwell Vineyards wanted to increase production from 25,000 gallons to 35,000 gallons per year and be allowed to host up to 60 visitors a day, instead of the current eight a day – or 40 per week. The Coombsville winery also asked to host up to 19 events a year for up to 1,040 people. It now can schedule up to 13 events for up to 270 guests at the winery on Kreuzer Lane.

An attorney speaking on behalf of the winery on Wednesday told the Napa County Planning Commission the proposal was “key” to maintain a commercially viable operation as it faces the uncertainties related to changes in the wine industry.

Caldwell Vineyards now processes a portion of its estate grapes, selling the rest of its fruit; it is also a custom-crush facility. Its goal is to convert the winery to an exclusive estate production facility, said Tom Adams, an attorney who represents the winery. “In order to do that, they need to have a market for the wine. So having access to consumers is key,” Adams told the commissioners. “We can’t survive with those low numbers,” he said, referring to the current maximum of visitors allowed at the winery.

A hearing on the Caldwell Vineyards plans was continued in January after Coombsville neighbors voiced strong opposition to the project. A number of requests were made, including having the winery pay for a traffic report and organize a meeting with residents to discuss the winery’s plans. Since then, the winery did meet with residents and agreed to a number of requests, including a traffic-calming plan for the section of Kreuzer Lane that’s privately owned. They also repaired an electrical gate damaged during the Atlas Peak fire.

But on Wednesday, residents urged the Planning Commission either to vote against the application or to approve another continuance. Among other issues, they said the applicant’s traffic report was inaccurate.

If the application is approved, residents said the vehicles heading to and from Caldwell Vineyards would create traffic hazards on Kreuzer Lane; they also said the nearby intersection at 4th Avenue and Kreuzer Lane is dangerous.

The residents expressed concerns over a number of other issues, including the increased fire hazards in an area where the Atlas Peak fire raged in October, as well as more noise and the lack of communication with the winery.

The residents’ attorney, Denis Shanagher, said the proposed project violates Napa County’s general plan.
In the end, the Napa County Planning Commissioners on Wednesday voted to continue the hearing to a yet-to-be determined date, citing the concerns of the residents. The vote was 4-0, with one of the commissioner absent.

Commissioner Jill Hansen asked for common ground. “I do think there are some real possibilities here. I’m just not seeing all of them right now,” she said.

Another commissioner, Joelle Gallagher, was ready to deny the project, citing a number of issues, including the number of requested of visitors and the state of the intersection at 4th Avenue and Kreuzer Lane.
“While we, of course, want businesses in our county to be viable and successful, we can’t be adjusting our land use regulations to assure the success of any particular operation,” Gallagher said.

Caldwell Vineyards’ immediate neighbors, Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel, strongly opposed the winery’s application. After the vote, Menzel said in an email the neighborhood association was “absolutely pleased that the Napa County Planning Commissioners listened to our concerns and didn’t rubber stamp” the user permit major modification.

“Many neighbors worked very hard researching all of the attendant details of this major modification, and represented the neighborhood concerns admirably well today. We’re pleased that the Commissioners largely agreed with us that a request for an over-700-percent increase in tasting visitors was not appropriate for our rural fire-prone neighborhood and sent the winery back to rework their request,” Menzel said. “We have tried for years to be good neighbors but haven’t had much success getting the winery owner to listen to our concerns. Whether there’s common ground will depend on the winery's new application.”

Caldwell’s original use permit was approved in 2004.

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