Napa Valley Register

Big Duckhorn winery growth plans win Napa County approval

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Big Duckhorn winery growth plans win Napa County approval

An assortment of Merlot wines from Duckhorn Vineyards.
Courtesy of Duckhorn Vineyards

Duckhorn Vineyards winery near St. Helena has secured Napa County approvals to construct more buildings, make more wine and host more guests.

The winery was founded in the mid-1970s and is located on 10.7 acres east of the Napa River at Lodi Lane and Silverado Trail. Duckhorn more recently bought 19.7 adjacent acres on the west side of the river, which are part of the growth plan.

Duckhorn has won approval to build a 58,042-square-foot winery on the west property and expand its Estate House on the east property. It can increase annual wine production from 160,000 to 300,000 gallons, and its annual visitation from 37,552 to 88,566 guests.

All of this is in line with what older, larger-parcel Napa County wineries have, according to Duckhorn’s chief executive Alex Ryan.

“The reality is, we’re not asking for new, crazy things, trying to set some new benchmarks for what we’re doing here,” Ryan said.

He convinced the Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday, despite some neighbor and even some commission concerns.

“When I first heard about this project, I was quite alarmed about the size of the facility in the Ag Preserve,” Commissioner Heather Phillips said, referring to the unincorporated areas where Napa County strictly limits development.

Duckhorn officials pointed out the operation each year hauls up to 1,500 tons of Napa County grapes to Hopland in Mendocino County to process into wine. That doesn’t make sense from an efficiency or environmental standpoint, they said.

Phillips saw the benefits of eliminating the Hopland trips by expanding the Napa operations. She wanted the new winery building to handle 100% Napa County grapes, something Ryan said Duckhorn was willing to do, though the commission can’t impose such a condition.

“I do feel this is overall a well-thought-out plan,” Commissioner Megan Dameron said.

Not everyone in the room agreed. Jack Pagendarm, who owns two parcels near Duckhorn and is a fourth-generation grape grower, objected to the addition of a 58,000-square-foot building with several tanks that eliminates potential vineyard land.

“To me, the purpose of the Ag Preserve is to preserve agriculture,” he said. “Winery expansion belongs in the industrial area of Napa, not in the middle of a vineyard.”

Attorney Patrick Enright, representing a Duckhorn neighbor, called the planned building “a major warehouse processing center which seems to be incompatible with an agricultural preserve area.”

Consultant George Monteverdi, speaking on Duckhorn’s behalf, disputed this depiction.

“This winery is not a warehouse. It is not a fulfillment center. This is a winery that’s there to produce wine, age wine and then have that wine bottled and shipped off to a fulfillment warehouse elsewhere,” he said.

Nancy and Dave Yewell and others objected to the planned removal of 49 trees for the project.

Of those trees, 10 are oaks being removed at the west driveway to meet county traffic visibility requirements, Monteverdi said. The other 39 are landscape trees such as non-native redwoods and persimmons. Duckhorn plans to add more than 49 trees to its properties.

One feature of the project is boring under the Napa River to transfer wastewater between the east and west properties.

An alternative is building a bridge with the lines, Monteverdi said, but that would blast a hole through the middle of an old-growth, riparian corridor along the river.

Horizontal boring is “trusted and proven technology,” Monteverdi said.

There are other examples of lines running under the Napa River. The Napa Sanitation District has for several decades pumped city of Napa sewage under the river near Imola Avenue. Workers in 2013 drilled a tunnel under the river near Stanly Ranch for wastewater and recycled water lines.

The horizontal boring for Duckhorn did not become a major issue at the Planning Commission meeting.

The commission waived a requirement for Duckhorn to install a left-turn lane. Doing so would have meant putting fill into the Napa River floodway and removing 29 trees, a county report said.

Only three of five planning commissioners were present — Phillips, Dameron and Dave Whitmer — and each voted in favor of the Duckhorn application.