The Winery Definition Ordinance Approved
In spring 2010, the Napa County Board of Supervisors adopted amendments to the County's Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO), as recommended by the Napa Valley Vintners in association and coordination with the Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and the Winegrowers of Napa County.
The amendments to the WDO achieve clarity to some of the ambiguous areas of the previous ordinance, while offering wineries a little more marketing flexibility, but not at the expense of the Agricultural Preserve or the County's General Plan.
Essentially, the key changes to the WDO are:
- As a component of marketing wine, food and wine pairings are now expressly permitted, but on a fixed cost recovery basis only. Wineries are not to become "restaurants."
- The sale of wine-related products in tasting rooms is allowed.
- Corporate events or business meetings are allowed at wineries, however the overall intent of the event must be considered as well as the amount of time spent in the business meeting vs. the time spent on education and marketing of the wines. For example: a minimum of half the time spent at the winery for such purpose should be spent on the education and marketing of wine.
Notably, social and cultural events that are not directly related to marketing and education of wine remains prohibited. Events included in this definition are weddings, wedding parties, anniversary events and the like.
The proposal to allow post-WDO wineries to remove the required entry-way sign that states "Tours and Tastings by Appointment Only," while beholding those same wineries to the numbers of visitors they are allowed via their use permit was tabled. The idea of allowing the signs to be removed was warmly received by the industry task force as well as County officials. However, the issues of a potential traffic study and EIR, as well as where the money would come from to cover such costs, remains unresolved and may be revisited.
The WDO was implemented in 1990 as a cornerstone protection measure for the Ag Preserve. The intent was to define what exactly wineries were and thereby what they were permitted to do, as well as not permitted to do, in order to discourage undue commercial activity in the Ag Preserve.
Periodically people have suggested amending the WDO, usually around the weddings issue, but it was never comprehensively reviewed until now.
Napa County Supervisors Bill Dodd and Mark Luce, along with some people in the hospitality industry, began discussing changes in the summer of 2009 that would permit weddings at wineries. Those discussions led to a proposal in the fall of that year that would have allowed for events in the Ag Preserve that had previously been un-allowed.
The NVV board formed a diverse seven-member task force to review the proposed changes and recommend the NVVâ€™s position. The task force recommended not accepting the proposed changes, but rather to include them in a comprehensive review of the WDO, given the changes faced by the Napa Valley wine industry over the 20 year history of the WDO. The Board of Supervisors accepted the NVV's recommendation and asked that NVV lead an industry task force comprised of the Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Winegrowers of Napa County.
The Industry Task Force discussed and negotiated the issues at hand for close to nine months, each with their own set of guiding principles, mainly that changes do no harm to the Ag Preserve and changes remain compliant with the recently-adopted Napa County General Plan.
The changes proposed by the Industry Task Force, and ultimately approved by the Board of Supervisors achieve such balance, providing some more marketing flexibility for wineries, but not at the expense of Napa Valleyâ€™s treasured Ag Preserve.
Click here to read the updated WDO.