Sterling winery secures Napa OK to rebuild gondola | Local News

Sterling Vineyards will be able to build a new version of the gondola system that operated for nearly five decades in Napa Valley before being destroyed in the Glass Fire of 2020.

The old system took visitors up a 300-foot hill near Calistoga to the cave inspired by a Greek monastery. No spare parts are available for repairs and the cellar spares burned in the fire.

“The winery is to replace existing tram equipment to reopen to visitors,” the project application states.

On Wednesday, County Zoning Administrator Brian Bordona in a town hall meeting approved the variance and conservation regulatory exception needed for the project.

“I am happy that you are taking another step towards rebuilding, that Sterling is operational again,” Bordona said.

People also read…

A county report mentioned a possible alternative to rebuilding the gondola system. Customers could drive up the hill to reach the winery.

But the existing road cannot support the winery county-approved tour program. Improving the road would require “tremendous amounts of grading” on the steep grades, according to the report.

No one objected to Sterling’s demands during public comments. However, a neighbor in a letter said a gondola is inappropriate in the agricultural reserve and creates a “theme park attraction”.

On his website, Sterling sees the gondola in a different and positive light. “The Aerial Tramway has been and will continue to be central to our visitor experience, as well as an iconic feature of the winery,” the website reads.

The new version of the gondola system will be different from the original version.

Four-person cabins are no longer available. They will be replaced by eight-person cabins, the smallest commercially available size, according to Sterling’s bid documents.

In addition, the project will be reconfigured to meet modern state security standards.

Sterling will replace nine existing towers ranging from 25 to 52 feet in height with 11 towers. Most new towers will be 23 to 41 feet tall. But one tower will be 58 feet tall and another 88 feet tall.

Napa County code sets a 50-foot height limit for towers, so an exception to the rules — officially called a variance — is needed.

Strict enforcement of the county’s maximum height would result in a more visible tower system as more towers would be needed, according to Sterling’s application documents. Some of the tower setups would result in a bumpy ride when the cabins passed through them.

Then there are the county conservation regulations. The system design requires guide towers and loading stations on slopes greater than 30%, which triggered the need for the exception.

The project requires the felling of seven oak trees. Sterling, in compensation, will plant 14 oak trees on the property.

In 1971, then co-owner Michael Stone talked about the original $300,000 gondola system. He said that Switzerland, one of the most beautiful countries, makes good use of aerial trams.

“We’re trying to build something nice to complement the natural setting,” Stone said of his future winery.

Napa County in 1971 favored the gondola system over possibilities such as using golf carts to reach the hilltop winery.

In 1973, the Napa Valley Register ran a five-page article that called Sterling the first “tourist-oriented winery” in the Valley. Stone said the winery was designed to be a place of beauty and a joy to visit.

The Sterling Vineyards winery is located at 1111 W. Dunaweal Lane. The winery’s website says a reopening could take place in the spring or summer of 2023. Candidates for the county’s draft were Sterling Vineyards Winery/Treasury Wine Estates Americas Co.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 707-256-2253 or [email protected]

Elisha A. Tilghman