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On the Radar

Lasseter's Justi Creek Winery

1 Vintage Lane

Location: North Valley
Status: Permit Application

Lasseter project to improve existing winery near Dunbar School. They are already allowed 125,000 case production, retail sales & marketing and a tasting facility. Project will upgrade/replace existing facilities, none larger. Exempt from CEQA

Related Files

01/21/2009 - Lasseter Justi Creek PRMD Proposal

News and Notes

01/09/2009 - Neighborhood Meeting - On-Site neighbors meeting at Lasseter Family Winery, Jan 9 2009

Notes taken during meeting (by Chris Jones)

Present were Nancy Lasseter, Greg Swaffar of Summit Engineering, attorney Phillip Kalsched, the project architect, winemaker Julia Iantosca and other project-involved persons. There were some 30 neighbors.

Project as explained by Greg Swaffar. The on-site estate grapes could produce 5,000 to 6,000 cases. The plan is to make the very best wine the estate is capable of making. The facility is sized such that it would be comfortable at the 10,000 case level, which would necessitate some off-site grapes. The new facility is going to be a significant upgrade. All the older buildings will be removed.
The architect then went over the design, highlighting that it was within the footprint of the existing structures. It reaches two stories on the south side, but presents a one story appearance on the other facets.
The project presentation ended without any reference to the tasting room, even though the Planning Application states that tasting room hours “will continue to be from 10am to 5 pm.”

At this point the neighbors were invited to ask questions. A neighbor pointed out that there has not been a functioning tasting room at the site since about 1992. What was their plan? There would be no public tasting room. Tasting would be by invitation only. There would be trade tasting and trade tours. A figure of 5 visitors at one time was mentioned. The hospitality facility as designed is only 200 square feet. A neighbor pointed out the circus-like atmosphere at the Niebaum-Coppola winery. The Lasseters are celebrities; if there was public tasting it could be a disaster. Nancy Lasseter said that was just what they wanted to avoid. One of the project team noted that nonetheless the use permit included an entitlement for a public tasting room.

Three neighbors on Henno Road to the west of the winery share a common well. They are concerned about increases in water use. It was noted that we appear to be in the third year of a drought. Mr. Swaffar responded by saying that the wastewater from the actual winemaking operations is sent to the settling ponds. Some 80% of this water can then be reclaimed. Irrigation water for the vines, and thus demands on the wells, is apparently a greater water use than in the winery. Irrigation is already occurring; the addition of winemaking operations will increase water use, but not by very much. A figure of 25% over current use was mentioned.

While the neighbors appreciated that the plan was for a small private winery, there was much concern over the use permit which entitles them to make 125,000 cases. Mr. Kalsched stated that the permit for 125,000 cases, while not of interest to the Lasseters at this time, had an economic value and was part of the price paid for the property. Mrs. Lasseter said that her children might want to make use of that permit, or that if they eventually sold the property they would want to sell on that entitlement. A neighbor expressed concern over the way in which wineries can incrementally up their production. The Lasseters are leaving in place the concrete pad which previously accommodated the tank farm (the tanks have been removed). Mr. Swaffar said that any increase of the building envelope would require some form of permitting; he later stated that he believed that outside tanks could be added on the concrete pad without any new permitting. A neighbor pointed out that the reason the Lasseters were making plans and the meeting was taking place was that the previous owners, the Chalone Group, had been unsuccessful in building a 125,000 case winery on the site. If the site was such a great place for a large industrial plant, then Chalone’s winery would be in operation. Therefore, the 125,000 case permit was somewhat of a moot point; the price paid for the winery must have reflected that it is not really a suitable site for such a facility, with its access road right next to an elementary school and the need to import some 95% of the required grapes. Two of the project representatives gave it as their opinion that if the 125,000 case idea came up: “It was stopped once, and will be stopped again.” Mr. Kalsched again stated that the Use Permit was vested and allowed for 125,000 cases. A neighbor asked the winemaker about the production as it was in the Grand Cru days. Ms. Iantosca said she had spoken with the winemaker at that time, and had been told production was in the 50,000 to 60,000 case range.

There is concern over the duration of the project and the noise and disturbance that will occur. In particular because of the roughly 5 years that work has been going on at the pond adjacent to Henno Road, as well as the large projects on Dunbar Road. Project members responded that they hope to break ground in the fall of 2009 as they are focused on harvesting the 2010 grapes at the new facility. They would attempt to make accomodations in regard to the noise, and provide contact persons.

Neighbors were pleased to learn that there is no plan to bring Mr. Lasseter’s steam train to the winery or pond.

Mrs. Lasseter and her associates kindly provided wine and refreshments. The neighbors appreciated the opportunity to learn first hand about the plans.

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