Frank Family Vineyards wants to build a Napa Valley winery in the Rutherford area, though the proposed scale is giving critics and some county Planning Commissioners pause.

Rich and Leslie Frank already run their Frank Family Vineyards winery on Larkmead Lane near Calistoga. The proposed, new winery producing up to 475,000 gallons annually is to be on their 87-acre Benjamin ranch along Conn Creek Road near Highway 128.

The Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday held a hearing and postponed the matter to a date uncertain. Such familiar themes as visitor numbers and traffic are among the items drawing attention.

“Is this application for a winery or an event center/restaurant?” Eve Kahn of Get a Grip on Growth wrote to the county.

Rich Frank is the former president of Paramount Television Group and Disney Studios and is vice chairperson of the American Film Institute board of directors. He disagreed with such characterizations of the project.

“We are not looking to pave paradise … and we’re not looking to build Disneyland,” he said.

Attorney Scott Greenwood-Meinert on behalf of the Franks said a project of this scope has been missing in Napa County in recent years. The focus has been on smaller wineries on smaller properties down long, winding roads.

“This is a project on a large parcel surrounded by large parcels of vineyards,” he said. “There are significant wineries in the immediate vicinity.”

The Franks originally asked that the winery have 145,600 visitors annually, counting daily tastings and market events. They asked for 357 marketing events a year. But those requests abruptly shrank.

During the meeting, Leslie Frank said they had cut this original visitation request by 40%. They cut the requested number of marketing events to eight a year.

Laura Tinthoff of Napa Vision 2050 called the proposed winery a large, non-agricultural project in the agricultural preserve. The sudden changes to application are not clear to the public and the issue should be delayed to another meeting, she said.

Vintner Michael Honig, who runs Honig Vineyard and Winery near the Benjamin ranch, also wanted the commission to continue the hearing. He is among those who have said the project should have an environmental impact report done.

Cyril Chappellet of Chappellet winery near Lake Hennessey supported the Franks’ request. He noted the Rich Frank has been a local vintner for more than 25 years.

“These are the kind of projects we should be happy to see come to fruition, versus another hobby winery proposed by an outsider,” he wrote to the county.

Vintners Darioush Khaledi and Carmen Policy both wrote to the commission that the Franks’ proposal is in line with what the county envisions for the agricultural preserve.

Resident Dylan Smith wrote that the winery would make the Rutherford area a tourist trap with traffic and people making loud noise. Don’t let a Hollywood mogul destroy Rutherford, he wrote.

“We know you will never make everyone happy,” Leslie Frank told commissioners. “No matter what concessions are made, there will still be the NIMBYs—not in my backyard.”

But this winery wouldn’t be in anyone’s backyard, she added, a reference to the proposed location on an 87-acre property.

“It seems like an appropriate winery site to me, given the location off Silverado Trail,” Commissioner Andrew Mazotti said. “It’s not remote, it’s not in the hills.”

Commissioner Anne Cottrell agreed that the location is good, but said the scale of the proposed project is a concern.

Meanwhile, Frank Family Vineyards has also applied to the county to make changes at its Larkmead Lane winery. The proposed Benjamin winery and the existing winery fit together in the Franks’ overall plan for making wine. The family owns more than 250 acres of vineyards at four ranches.

Commissioner Joelle Gallagher said the commission isn’t looking at the Franks’ overall plans for their entire operation. That means looking at the Benjamin winery as a stand-alone request.

Rich Frank made it clear he wants to avoid delays and asked the commission to set a date for the next hearing. He expressed concern that opponents might bog the project down by submitting more comments and wanting more studies.

“This is a pattern that anybody who wants to delay anything in this valley takes,” Rich Frank said. “That’s why it’s almost impossible to work in this valley.”

Planning Commission chairperson Dave Whitmer, while acknowledging Rich Frank’s desire to move quickly, supported the county staff recommendation to postpone to a date uncertain. The commission is trying to give the Franks’ team and county team time to work together to answer questions.

“We could make a decision today, but I’m not sure you’d appreciate that decision,” he said.



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You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com.