Regulation of Napa wineries has largely been done on a winery-by-winery basis, subject to general standards such as setbacks, minimum parcel sizes, and tastings by appointment only, with production maximums and visiting hours set at the discretion of the county.
The result of this regulatory approach is that wineries often have very different visitation allowances compared to other wineries of similar size with equivalent site constraints.
In response to a recognized need to create more certainty in the winery licensing process (and reduce costs), Napa County has implemented alternative winery and micro-licensing processes. existing qualifying wineries that allow staff-level approvals, instead of requiring a full planning commission hearing.
Other counties will have to find the right balance between visits and the environment according to the local needs of each.
An alternative method would be to define visitation and marketing event allowances as generally applicable standards that apply to all eligible properties also subject to site-specific conditions and mitigations.
This could be done on a sliding scale, with daily visits increasing based on certain agricultural variables, such as production or vineyard acres, to ensure that visits remain incidental to the main agricultural use.
This would lead to more transparency for new business investments and provide additional certainty for new wineries, as well as existing wineries looking to expand, while ensuring that visits do not consume the agricultural use they are meant to support.
Jeff Dodd: While some will consider the Napa County Events and Visitation Regulations successful in achieving their original goals in 1991, Sonoma County and the entire North Shore should view these regulations as information only and move forward. with solutions based on the best practices of the 21st century.
All of North Bay and the North Shore must deal with the fact that going forward, regardless of climate change, ongoing vineyard improvements have and will continue to require additional production capacity, while the creation of a new cellar or the modification of an existing cellar becomes more difficult. and harder.
Jeremy Little: Napa County has taken a completely different approach to this problem than Sonoma County, given the Napa County Vineyard Definition Ordinance.
Sonoma County does not have such an ordinance. Sonoma County staff continue to review, solicit public comment, and create regulations that are vastly different from Napa’s. It is important in Sonoma County and other parts of the North Coast to differentiate between basic winery sales activities and what should be defined as a special event, and not confuse the two. .
Katherine Philippakis: The benefit of Napa County’s highly structured marketing and hospitality regulations is the level of certainty in the planning process: applicants know what they will be allowed to do and generally plan their marketing programs accordingly.
The downside of Napa County’s approach is that it is very restrictive and stifles innovation.
Sonoma has generally had a more flexible approach to hospitality, with no clear definition of what a marketing event or special event is.
While this brings more uncertainty, it also means there is a greater variety of experiences for visitors to Sonoma County. This can help retain a sense of authenticity, as there is a greater diversity of marketing programs available.
That being said, I would expect Sonoma and other North Coast areas to develop more structured regulations over time, as the trend unfortunately always seems to be towards tighter regulations.
However, I hope Napa County will recognize that winery hospitality is an ever-evolving business and innovation should be welcomed.
I foresee a trend towards greater focus on agriculture and the cultivation of non-wine crops alongside vineyards on wine estates, and hope that land use regulations can evolve to allow for the sale and marketing of non-wine agricultural products in association with the hospitality of the winery.
This would take a more holistic agricultural approach and showcase the diversity of agriculture that contributes to the sustainability of our wine regions.