Cakebread Cellars can make more wine but Balloons Above the Valley can’t use an agricultural property to launch more hot air balloons.
Those were the outcomes at Wednesday’s Napa County Planning Commission meeting. Both businesses sought use permit changes.
Cakebread Cellars is located near Rutherford along Napa Valley’s main road, Highway 29. It asked to increase wine production from 500,000 gallons annually to 800,000 gallons annually, a 60% increase.
“Yeah, 800,000 gallons of wine does sound like a lot,” said attorney Joshua Devore on behalf of Cakebread Cellars. “It’s still going to be a small winery in its neighborhood, given who its neighbors are.”
Two wineries within a mile of Cakebread Cellars make far more wine. Robert Mondavi winery can make three million gallons annually and Napa Wine Company can make four million gallons annually, according to a county report.
That newly approved Cakebread Cellars wine output is a big difference from 1973 when the Cakebreads made four barrels of chardonnay. The family started out with 20 acres of vineyards.
Today, Cakebread Cellars has about 480 acres of vineyards in Napa County, plus 100 acres in Anderson Valley. It also buys from growers. Every now and then, the vineyards yield a “mega-harvest,” such as in 2012, 2013, and 2018, Bruce Cakebread said.
All of this led to the wine-increase request.
“It’s going to allow us to stay compliant (with county laws), stay with the market, and process all of this fruit that’s been coming in,” Cakebread told the commission.
Making more wine doesn’t mean using more groundwater. Cakebread Cellars will decrease its overall water use by using recycled water for irrigation, a county report said.
The winery also asked to increase the number of full-time and part-time workers from 77 to 120. It asked to add two million-gallon water storage tanks for fire suppression and four 10,000-gallon water tanks for domestic use. It asked to add a wastewater pretreatment system.
But Cakebread Cellars didn’t ask for more visitors or more marketing events, a topic that can sometimes cause controversy. The winery already can serve 64,800 visitor-carrying vehicles annually.
For Balloons Above the Valley, the outcome was virtually preordained. The commission on Sept. 2 said the firm couldn’t increase launches at 5360 Washington St. between Napa and Yountville from 50 days annually to year-round.
But the commission still had to take a final vote on a resolution explaining its reasoning and making the denial official. That came on Wednesday.
Balloons Above the Valley owner Bob Barbarick owns 2 acres in the agricultural preserve. In 2019 he won county Zoning Administrator permission for 50 launch days and that decision stands.
He wanted additional launch days — he estimated he would launch 1,832 balloons over 229 days annually — and that required Planning Commission approval. Those proposed, additional launches sparked controversy.
“The project site is located in an area surrounded by vineyards in the heart of the agricultural preserve,” the Planning Commission resolution said.
And that was the heart of the matter for the commission majority. It feared upping the number of launches would in effect turn an agricultural property into a commercial property, even if agricultural zoning remained.
Commissioners also heeded complaints from some rural residents who said low-flying balloons intrude on their privacy.
The commission vote to turn down the Balloons Above the Valley request was 3-2, with commissioners Dave Whitmer, Anne Cottrell, and Joelle Gallagher voting with the majority and commissioners Andrew Mazotti and Megan Dameron dissenting.
Balloons Above the Valley couldn’t be reached to see if it will appeal the Planning Commission decision to the Napa County Board of Supervisors. Officials with the company did not attend Wednesday’s hearing.
“I personally love and enjoy the valley,” Barbarick told the commission on Sept. 2. “It is my home and personal wonderland. To see the valley from above is spectacular. It has been a dream come true and a passion for me.”
He began his balloon business in 1977.
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