Wheeler Farms winery received a boost from the Napa County Planning Commission as it tries to weather hard economic times caused by the coronavirus pandemic and wildfires.
The commission on Wednesday allowed the winery south of St. Helena to increase production from 50,000 gallons annually to 70,000 gallons. It also allowed the winery to correct several permit violations.
“Everything kind of checks the boxes here,” Planning Commission Chairperson Andrew Mazotti said.
Wheeler Farms has a history as a farm dating back to 1871, with the winery being approved in 2009. Bart and Daphne Araujo bought the property at 588 Zinfandel Lane in 2014, after they sold their namesake Calistoga estate.
Bart Araujo called the winery’s hospitality side last year “an absolute disaster” amid the pandemic and wildfires. Revenues dropped steeply below expectations.
“We’re keeping virtually all our staff together, which is a very expensive proposition, in the hopes we can pull things out on that side, hopefully soon once the vaccination program gets going,” he said.
However, Araujo said, the winery’s production side is “full to the gills.” Wheeler Farms makes the Araujos’ Accendo Cellars wines and is a custom crush facility for other winemakers.
While the application asked for more wine production, it had no winery expansion or remodeling requests. The winery can make more wine with the existing facility.
“We hope you will give that (increase) some serious consideration, as it’s a very important economic impact to us,” Bart Araujo told commissioners.
He talked about vineyards that will provide grapes for extra production. He also noted wineries that were destroyed or sustained damage in last year’s wildfires need wine-making facilities.
“These are our friends in Napa,” he said.
The Planning Commission spent little time discussing the requests before granting approval by unanimous vote.
“Last year was devastating and I wish you luck in 2021, and I’m glad we can help you move forward and be successful,” Mazotti told the Araujos.
Part of the Wheeler Farms requests involved correcting violations. The county allowed wineries with violations to try to remedy the situation without penalty if they stepped forward by March 29, 2019.
Wheeler Farms asked the county to recognize 14 full-time and eight part-time employees — it had been approved for two full-time and two part-time employees — as well as the use of a loft for wine tasting and two annual marketing events with 120 guests.
Napa County has 48 participants in the compliance resolution program. Twelve cases have been resolved, five withdrawn and two will soon go to the Planning Commission. Another 29 applications require more information, Deputy Planning Director Brian Bordona said.
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