County Planners Won’t Tamper With Special Events at Wineries

As part of scrutinizing whether Napa Valley is awash in tourists and traffic, county planners see no reason to change the rules governing nonprofit events at wineries.

“If it isn’t broken, I don’t recommend we try to fix it,” Planning Commissioner Terry Scott said.

Wineries host more visitors than those going to their tasting rooms. They also host events that are governed in different ways, depending on the type of event.

Marketing events that benefit the wineries are typically limited in number by winery use permits. All of the authorized marketing events in use permits added together top 23,000 annually – 63 per day – though it’s unclear how many actually take place.

In addition, wineries can also host temporary events that are permitted by the county on a case-by-case basis. Temporary events are usually charity fundraisers or educational events, a county report stated. Numbers range from 75 in 2014 to 133 in 2013.

The Planning Commission has wrestled with such issues as whether wineries are becoming traffic-generating event centers. It decided Wednesday that, if changes are needed, they shouldn’t involve assigning wineries a temporary event limit on use permits.

Evie Ayers is executive director of Music in the Vineyards, a nonprofit that holds a chamber music festival in August at wineries. Each concert requires a temporary event permit from the county.

“If you cut the number of temporary events, it would not affect the wineries in any way,” Ayers told commissioners. “They do not benefit from it …. They give their places in order for community events to happen.”

Music in the Vineyards uses wineries as venues because the buildings are perfect for what it does, Ayers said. If wineries couldn’t hold concerts, her organization wouldn’t exist, she said.

“Everything we do is for the local community,” Ayers said. “Our audience is 80 percent from the Napa Valley. Our events are up to 200 people.”

Music in the Vineyards and other groups contribute to a diverse culture. Temporary events should be about involving the wineries in what people need and want, Ayers said.

Grania Lindberg of Napa CanDo also urged the commission to proceed with caution.

Hundreds of local nonprofits provide important services, in many cases to the neediest residents, Lindberg said. Fundraisers held at wineries are important for the nonprofits.

“I hope some consideration can be made for that to be able to continue with whatever new regulations are determined,” she said.

John Comisky is with Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County that rehabilitates wildlife. The nonprofit group recently had its first gala event at a donated venue.

“Don’t build a fence that doesn’t have a gate for nonprofits,” he told commissioners.

Resident Christina Benz took the event permitting issue from a different angle. She, too, didn’t want temporary events folded into winery use permits. Rather, she wanted authorized marketing events on use permits with more than 50 people attending to become temporary events.

Now, it’s unclear how many of the authorized 20,000-plus annual winery marketing events are held, Benz said. Having the wineries seek temporary event permits for them would provide more information on traffic and other impacts, she said.

“Smart development results from having the best information possible,” Benz said.

Temporary events have to do with the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech and the right of assembly, said attorney Richard Mendelson on behalf of Napa Valley Vintners. The First Amendment applies to such things as charitable events.

While government can’t exclude or severely limit First Amendment expression, it can control the time, place and manner that events occur. That’s what the county’s existing temporary events ordinance does, he said. He, too, supported the temporary events status quo.

Castillo di Amarosa had the most temporary events among wineries over the past 20 years at 41, followed by St. Supery at 35, Rubicon and Inglenook at 29, Silverado at 26, Mondavi at 24, Judd’s Hill at 20, Clos Pegase at 18 and Frog’s Leap and Zahtila at 16, a county report stated.

In addition, such non-winery venues as The White Barn and Di Rosa Gallery hold at least one event a year on average, it said.

“We’ve spent enough time at the hearings talking about the impact that wineries have on the community, sometime negative impacts,” Commissioner Anne Cottrell said. “I thinks it’s worth noting that temporary events are an instance where wineries are able to and do give back to the community and make it a stronger place for us all.”

The commission doesn’t want to do anything to derail this, she said.