A proposed wine tasting room in the Napa Valley hamlet of Rutherford has support from the Napa County Board of Supervisors, though neighborhood disputes about a private road could still muddy matters.
Supervisors this week tentatively upheld a decision by the county Planning Commission. Their denial of an appeal – a final vote is to come Aug. 11—would allow the Mathew Bruno tasting room to be located in an 1890s-era Victorian home along Rutherford Road.
Supervisor Ryan Gregory liked the Brunos’ preferred approach of making wine at a custom crush facility and selling it from a Rutherford tasting room. He said this will have less impact than building a winery, as other winemakers might attempt to do.
“This is what we’ve been encouraging, is retail sales through tasting rooms like this,” Gregory said.
The property at 1151 Rutherford Road, near busy Highway 29, is zoned commercial. Nearby are such businesses as Rutherford Grill and Rancho Caymus Inn. No one at the hearing said this is an inappropriate place for a tasting room.
Controversy over the Bruno tasting room is related to Grape Lane. The private road leads from Rutherford Road to seven homes and passes along the western side of the Victorian.
Guests visiting the tasting room are to turn from Rutherford Road onto Grape Lane and back into one of the seven parking spaces. The parking stalls would be on the Bruno property, but maneuverings to get in and out would occur on Grape Lane.
Neighbor Randy Bryant asked supervisors to avoid turning the entrance to Grape Lane into “a parking aisle.” The neighbors under the name Grape Lane Association appealed the Planning Commission’s Dec. 4 approval of the tasting room.
“We are in full support of the Bruno winery project,” Bryant said. “But we can’t be a party to them changing our access and burdening it to the point of not being able to get to our homes.”
The Grape Lane Association envisions guests turning from Rutherford Road into a parking lot on the Bruno property, one big enough that all parking maneuvers could take place in it. Grape Lane would be removed from the picture.
Consultants for the Brunos said there is no room on the third-of-an-acre to do so because of a septic system and storm drainage requirements.
Attorney Tom Carey on behalf of the Grape Lane Association said that, as a result, the Brunos have relied on creativity and Grape Lane to make the project work.
“Those machinations, that creativity should not come at the expense of the little people, the people who are actually going to have to live with that creativity,” he told supervisors.
Bryant, a civil engineer, was skeptical of the Brunos’ assertion that a parking lot won’t fit on the property because of restraints.
“If we can go to the moon, we can certainly build a parking lot on the Bruno property,” he said.
Anthony Bruno mentioned several changes made to the project, such as seeking to install a crosswalk on Rutherford Road and asking guests to back into the parking spaces so they are facing forward when the leave. He and his brother Mathew are project applicants.
“We feel we have continuously tried to appease the neighbors,” he said. “But we feel at the same time the neighbors keep changing their requests and changing the rules by which they want us to play.”
Neighbors failed to sell their viewpoint to supervisors. But supervisors did want such improvements made as having the paved portion of Grape Lane near Rutherford Road widened and a right turn lane added.
Questions arose as to who owns Grape Lane. A county report says the Grape Lane Association and BurttonLaurel LLC both claim ownership.
The Brunos in November 2018 received court recognition of an access easement along Grape Lane to their property. Still, county supervisors wondered if potential disputes among the Grape Lane parties might somehow affect the Brunos’ ability to make the required Grape Lane improvements.
“That to me is the real elephant in the room,” Board of Supervisors Chair Diane Dillon said.
Mathew Bruno tasting room seeks to have tastings for up to 56 guests daily, two monthly marketing events for up to 30 guests and two annual marketing events for up to 200 guests.
The Bruno family uses grapes from throughout the area, primarily from Rutherford, and makes wine in the city of Napa. The family bought the Rutherford house with the idea of showcasing its wines close to the main fruit source, the Bruno application said.
“We really wanted to be in Rutherford to highlight the Rutherford area and where the grapes are grown,” Anthony Bruno told supervisors.