Action accuses county of imposing unlawful restrictions on new well permits
Napa, Calif.—Jayson Woodbridge, owner and winemaker of one of the world’s most sought-after wines, has filed suit against the County of Napa after the county refused to issue permits for water wells on Woodbridge’s vineyard properties, in violation of state and federal law. Link to lawsuit filed Sept. 5, 2023 in U.S. Federal District Court, San Francisco.
Woodbridge’s lawsuit challenges the county’s disregard both of state water rights and of its own regulations. Under state and county laws, the well permits should have been granted as a matter of course, and without excessive and discriminatory restrictions on water use.
Instead, Napa County officials refused to issue the permits unless Woodbridge agreed to a strict limit on the water that could be drawn annually from each well, a restriction that the county does not apply to existing wells, even though Woodbridge has the same legal right to use the water underlying his properties as do property owners with existing wells.
The county has denied water permits at four of Woodbridge’s vineyards: Double Vee Properties LLC, 825 Fulton Lane; Caldera Ranch LLC, 865 Crystal Springs Road; and Hundred Acre LLC, 1160 Larkmead Lane, all in St. Helena, California; and The Hundred Acre Wine Group, 2353 and 2355 Pickett Road, Calistoga, California.
“This lawsuit is being filed with respect to vineyard properties owned by Mr. Woodbridge, but the county’s actions affect many agricultural properties. Any owner seeking a new well permit is being subjected to a 70% reduction in allowable water use, as compared with existing wells. That is not a legitimate use of the county’s regulatory authority,” said Mr. Woodbridge’s counsel, Jonathan Bass of the San Francisco and Napa law firm of Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass. “The county’s infringement of water rights is a threat to every vineyard and farm that depends on groundwater for irrigation.”
Woodbridge, who founded and owns Hundred Acre Wine Group, has produced more perfectly scored wines than any other winemaker in the world under the Hundred Acre label, 43 of which have scored a perfect 100 from Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate and former The Wine Advocate writer, Jeb Dunnuck, now of JebDunnuck.com.
The suit was filed in federal court on September 5 in the United State District Court for the Northern District of California against Napa County and seeks a court order declaring the county’s actions violate California law governing water rights as well as the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It also seeks unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.
This is the second lawsuit that Woodbridge and Hundred Acre has filed against the County. In October 2022, Woodbridge filed a lawsuit against Napa County alleging governmental overreach. He sued Napa County for attempting to force him to replant high fire-risk trees. Instead he installed an experimental vineyard that provides a fire-break and safety measures for his vineyard and neighborhood.
Contact: Sam Singer