March 29, 2012 | Leave a Comment
Colorado-based Madison Holdings, LLC owns Reata Winery in southern Napa County, a site formerly operated by Kirkland Ranch, where they produce approximately 200,000 gallons of wine annually. Last week, their quest to expand operations and increase production to 3.5 million gallons annually was stopped by the Napa County Planning Commission, who questioned whether you could still call the property a winery after the proposed changes were made.
Reata had no intention of expanding its facilities at the winery. Instead, they planned to utilize off-site areas near the Napa airport for barrel storage. The way the Planning Commission saw it, Reata was moving 2/3 of the wine-making process off-site. This raised the question, would Reata still be an agricultural operation, or would the changes in operations due to the proposed expansion warrant reclassification as a commercial-industrial operation? If so, Reata’s plan would not comply with zoning restrictions on the property.
Separately, the Planning Commission raised concerns over Reata’s intention to adhere to the “75% rule” after expansion. The rule requires all Napa County wines to be made with at least 75% Napa County fruit. According to the planning staff report, to comply with the rule and achieve the proposed production level, Reata would need the fruit from 11% of Napa County’s 43,267 total vineyard acres at current yield levels. Industry experts testified for both sides on whether this was feasible; supporters of the expansion said that the necessary increase in yield could be achieved just by replanting vineyards to yield 4 1/2 tons per acre (currently the average yield is 3 1/2 tons). Opponents argued the current yield is the maximum for producing the highest quality grapes.
The commissioners also expressed concerns about the precedent approving such an aggressive expansion plan would set, and the potential threat to the county’s Ag Preserve.
Ultimately, the Planning Commission approved a smaller expansion plan recommended by staff, which allows Reata to expand to 800,000 gallons, which could include 350,000 gallons of bulk wine bottling. A video of the planning commission meeting and the agenda and minutes (which includes links to the staff report and documents submitted by the applicant) can be viewed on the Planning Commission’s website.