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Caymus Pays $1 Million for Alleged Violations of Napa County Rules

Napa Valley winery accused of bottling too much wine on-site; will settle and move bottling operations

James Laube
Posted: August 2, 2013

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.

Gerry Ansel
Fullerton, California, USA —  August 4, 2013 4:39am ET
Who cares? This is actually a good thing - three times as much Caymus to go around! :-)
Chris Turner
fresno, ca —  August 5, 2013 12:29pm ET
or another example of too big to follow the rules
Tim Sinniger
Bend, OR —  August 5, 2013 1:05pm ET
Spoken like a true bureaucrat. Government shapes rules (and interpretations) to exact the most money possible from business.

Oops, I meant to say that evil Caymus needs to pay its fair share!
Ron Bunnell
Prosser, WA —  August 5, 2013 4:29pm ET
Little difficult to keep up with what "production" is. The Federal government (TTB) says it's when fermentation stops and you remove the wine from it's primary fermenter - hard to imagine that doesn't happen until you bottle, unless they were bottling wines that were less than 6 months old.
Colin Haggerty
La Jolla, California, USA —  August 5, 2013 9:36pm ET
Is Napa County doing themselves a favor, or (IMHO) shooting themselves in the foot? Note that Caymus purchased property in a neighboring county and will move much of its business there. There goes a fair amount of tax money!
Furkan Kereci
miami- florida  —  August 17, 2013 3:36am ET
great haste makes waste
Wayne Humphreys
Orlando ,Florida —  August 19, 2013 7:53am ET
We are a country of rules and it has served us very well in the past. A permitting system is a necessary evil to protect all of us evils of greed .
Brian Pritchard
king CIty, Ontario Canada —  November 25, 2013 7:59pm ET
I can't see how this turns out well for Nappa County. They win the battle but in the long run loose the war - Off goes the beloved Caymus to another county. Short sighted bureaucrats, they will kill progress every time.
Amedeus Dascanio
Maple, Ontario ,Canada —  December 9, 2013 2:05pm ET
Give them heck...Chuck!!!! I agree with Brian of King City. Short sighted will cost Napa in the long run. I wonder why it took 20 years to level fines?

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