Clos Pegase near Calistoga won county approval for a new marketing events plan, the latest effort by an established winery to clarify its rights amid county rules that have changed over the decades.
The winery was founded in 1984, before the county’s 1990 winery definition ordinance addressed marketing events at wineries. Its three-decades-old use permit didn’t spell out how many events it could hold annually and with how many people, as do today’s permits.
County Zoning Administrator Vincent Smith last week approved the use permit changes sought by Clos Pegase. He said the revised permit makes clear to both Clos Pegase and to a neighbor who has complained about events exactly what is allowed at the winery.
“I think its in everybody’s best interest that we do approve this,” Smith said.
Smith’s ruling allows five events annually with up to 300 guests, three events annually with up to 80 guests, six events monthly with up to 40 guests and two events monthly with 20 guests. Events may include full meal service. Outdoor events must end by 9 p.m. and indoor events by 10 p.m.
Smith’s ruling also allows Clos Pegase to sell wine to customers to drink on the premises.
The county considered the changes “very minor modifications” that didn’t trigger a Planning Commission hearing. Instead, a half-dozen people gathered around a table in the county Administration Building for an informal, hour-long public meeting of the Zoning Administrator.
Clos Pegase neighbor Norma Tofanelli has long complained about the winery’s events and how they have impacted life at her rural property on Dunaweal Lane. She attended the hearing, but didn’t oppose the use permit changes in return for clarity on what events the winery can legally hold.
“While we do not believe that marketing and social events belong on ag lands, current regulations allow such events, so we are forced to accept them,” Tofanelli wrote to the county. “We do, however, have serious concerns.”
The hearing in part involved establishing what marketing activities occurred at Clos Pegase under previous ownership before the county’s 1990 winery definition ordinance.
Clos Pegase responded with a 142-page application. Among the evidence it submitted to prove it was holding marketing events during the 1980s were three-decade-old complaints from the Tofanelli family.
“We could hear people clapping all the way over to our house at 10 at night,” a 1987 Tofanelli family complaint said. “Are we forced to keep our windows closed in the summertime?”
Tofanelli took the view that the county can’t today legally establish—basically grandfather-in—historic uses that she believes were illegal from the start. Still, she said, the Clos Pegase marketing plan appears to be allowed by today’s regulations.
A bigger, ongoing county debate is whether some wineries are becoming “event centers” yielding profits unrelated to wine. Tofanelli and local farmer Cio Perez at the hearing addressed how much wineries can charge guests to attend marketing events.
“It’s cost recovery only,” said Perez, who is running to unseat Supervisor Diane Dillon in the June 5 election.
Smith replied that Clos Pegase agreed to abide by the county’s definition of marketing events.
A county report said marketing of wine means prearranged activities for the education and development of customers with respect to wine sold at the winery. Activities can include social and cultural events, provided these events are clearly related to and subordinate to wine making at the winery. Events can include food service provided without charge, except for cost recovery.
Tofanelli wasn’t satisfied with a mere definition.
“It’s not so important what I think it says,” Tofanelli said. “It’s what staff and code enforcement, etc. agree to.”
Smith kept steering the conversation back to the Clos Pegase application. On that topic, no one in the room had an objection.
Clos Pegase is located at 1060 Dunaweal Lane. The application was made by the owner, Vintage Wine Estates.