Napa Winemakers Argue Over the Valley`s Visual Image

In Yountville, it seems that only winery dwarves are permitted to get in the way of how Napa Valley looks.

If you’ve never heard the term “viewshed” – like “watershed” – welcome to Napa Valley. The essence is that Napa’s bucolic look is an asset that can’t be messed with.

The term isn’t unique to Napa; from North Carolina to Malibu, legislators have enacted or considered viewshed protection laws.

Napa’s visual image is being vigorously debated right now by some of the big names in wine, including Christian Moueix, Warren Winiarski and Dennis Groth. A new winery going into Yountville, right on State Road 29 – the main artery – has a dwarf theme that will make the heart of Napa look more like Disneyland.

But it’s the neighboring project – a subtle structure built to fit into the surrounding hills – that the big three Cabernet champions are opposing.

The two projects are Ca’Nani a Del Dotto Family Winery, with its dwarves (Ca’Nani means “the House of Dwarves”), and Yountville Hill Winery, with the vocal opposition.

Don’t misunderstand: plenty of locals aren’t happy about the dwarves. But that project is right by the road, so it’s not in the viewshed. If it was, you can bet the longtimers would be fighting it.

Dave Del Dotto made his money selling something called a “Cash Flow System,” a real estate investment course on infomercials. In 1996, he paid a $200,000 settlement on Federal Trade Commission charges of deceptive advertising. About that same time, he put more money where his mouth is by buying up Napa and Sonoma County vineyards, and he now owns 437 acres (121 planted) of prime land.