Caymus Vineyards has agreed to pay $1 million to Napa County to settle a dispute over allegations the winery violated local ordinances and bottled 20 times more wine at its Rutherford facility than permitted.
Last year Caymus bottled 2 million gallons of wine, or 830,000 cases, at its Rutherford winery, while its use permit, dating to the 1990s, allows the famous Napa Valley Cabernet producer to bottle 42,000 cases a year. Excessive production was the main allegation in Napa County’s lawsuit, which also asserted that the family-owned winery expanded its facilities without proper permits.
“This is something we’ve been wrestling with for some time,” owner Chuck Wagner told Wine Spectator. “It’s a complicated matter, but basically we disagree with the county on the use permit. Rather than engage in a lengthy debate with them, we want to continue our business and decided to settle.”
The Napa County winery definition ordinance (WDO) defines and restricts what wineries can do in terms of commercial activity, including winemaking, marketing and hospitality. Besides bottling more wine than its permit allowed, Caymus also allegedly violated the WDO by adding a cement crush pad and office building to its property without a new permit, thereby increasing its “footprint”.
In the 1980s, the company, founded by Chuck with his father, Charlie, and mother, Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, began to expand its production. It now owns a winery in Santa Lucia Highlands, where it makes wines under the Conundrum, Mer Soleil and Silver labels. It also produces Belle Glos and Meomi at its Rutherford facility. All of the wines are bottled at Caymus. The county WDO clearly equates bottling with wine production.
“Where it gets interesting and misleading is the definition of production,” Wagner said. Wagner and many of his fellow winery owners don’t consider bottling to be production, but the county does. Each year the county randomly selects several wineries for compliance reviews to make sure use permits are adhered to, he said. Caymus was inspected in 2008.
By agreeing to settle the matter, Wagner avoids a lawsuit with the county. As a formality, the county filed suit Aug. 2 in Napa County Superior Court and Caymus settled immediately. The $1 million settlement is the largest ever paid by a Napa County winery for such violations. The money is to be paid over two years and Caymus has five years to bring its operations into compliance with county laws.
Earlier this month, Wagner announced that Caymus would build a new production facility in Fairfield in neighboring Solano County, which will reduce its footprint in Rutherford. The winery acquired a 178-acre parcel with plans to build a 5 million-gallon winery and warehouse. About one-third of the company’s wine will be made in Fairfield and eventually all of Caymus’ wines will be bottled there, he said. In the meantime, Caymus has relocated some of its staff to the city of Napa and made plans to bottle other wines at another facility in the valley closer to the winery.