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Napa Winery Files Lawsuit Against Governor

Suit Alleges Discriminatory Treatment in Reopening Plan

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Caymus Vineyards announced that it is filing a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Gov. Gavin Newsom and California State Public Health Officer Sonia Angell alleging discriminatory treatment in the state’s reopening plan for non-essential businesses.

The most recent orders permit the reopening of winery tasting areas only if they also provide sit-down meals. However, the nearly 50-year-old winery contends in a statement released this week that the continued closure of wineries that don’t serve food “violates the Equal Protection, Due Process, and Takings Clauses of both the U.S. and California Constitutions.”

“If it’s safe for restaurants and other wineries to serve meals, it’s undeniably safe for wineries to open for tastings,” says Chuck Wagner, founder and President of Caymus Vineyards in a statement. “Our lawsuit makes a simple demand that we be treated fairly and equally.”

So far, the Stage 2 variance self-attestation filed by Napa County with the state and approved last week by California health officials allows for, among other activities, seated restaurant dining and indoor retail with the practice of social distancing.

“As Napa County pursues this variance permitting eligible businesses and workplaces within its jurisdiction to advance further into Stage 2, it remains steadfastly committed to collectively protecting the public and essential workers,” it’s stated in the document, which is signed public health office Karen Relucio.

Wineries and tasting rooms, however, must remain closed until the state's Phase 3 of reopening is activated.

At the root of the situation is the fact that most Napa County winery use permits prohibit wineries from offering full-meal service. The result is that wineries cannot yet open for wine tastings and remain in accordance to the Phase 2 reopening guidelines. This, alleges the complaint, “makes no sense” and “specifically harms Napa County wineries.”

The lawsuit is petitioning the court to allow Caymus Vineyards (and other Napa County wineries facing the same issue) to reopen wine tastings claiming that Napa County has determined that it meets the state's Phase 2 guidelines of Stage 2.


Allowances for county variances listed at the state’s Covid-19 Resilience Road Map site
prescribe that Stage 2 reopening can deepen in certain counties if there are “Less than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days OR less than 8% testing positive in the past 7 days.” At present writing, according to County of Napa’s website, there have been a total of 111 cases, with still 52 active, 56 recovered and 3 resulting in fatalities in a population is estimated to be 137,744.

Caymus’s lawsuit contends that it’s unfair of the governor to allow “a small sub-group of wineries to open for tastings,” according to the winery’s statement. “He is discriminating against a large number of wineries in Napa County and across the state.”

“The recent orders provide no explanation for the disparate and unfair treatment between wineries that serve food and those that do not,” says Michael Carlson, vice president and general counsel for Caymus Vineyards. “The double standard of allowing restaurants and wineries that serve food to reopen while prohibiting wineries from conducting wine tastings alone is both unconscionable and unconstitutional. Napa County is allowing wineries to expand their outdoor tasting space to accommodate social distancing. The state’s guidance is not just inconsistent with that allowance, but a damaging impediment.”

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