Home Industry News Releases Three Wineries Seek Federal & State Civil Rights Investigations

Three Wineries Seek Federal & State Civil Rights Investigations


Wineries Request Patterns & Practices Investigation by Federal & State Prosecutors

November 8th – NAPA–Today, three wineries joined in seeking federal and state civil rights investigations by Ismail J.Ramsey, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California, and California Attorney General Rob Bonta, into Napa County’s unconstitutional patterns and practices.

“As a former prosecutor, I know that an investigation into the actions taken by Napa County will demonstrate a pattern and practice of discriminating against specific classes of landowners and small businesses owners,” said Lindsay Hoopes, proprietor of Hoopes Vineyards, a University of California law professor and former prosecutor. “We are small wineries that have been operating for more than forty years. County government is using its police powers in a way that is completely rogue and devoid of legal merit.  We are lawfully operating small businesses and this is an illegal effort to seize property rights that we’ve possessed for decades.  If these officials investigate this conduct it is hard to imagine that they wouldn’t step in and protect us from this extraordinary and illegal government overreach.”

The request to the United States Attorney for the Northern District and the Attorney General of California alleges that the investigation would uncover unconstitutional regulatory patterns and practices as well as enforcement of civil actions without probable cause and upon false evidence, as well as abuse of prosecutorial discretion.  Three wineries have already joined an action against Napa County alleging unconstitutional patterns and practices in their civil action. Today’s request reflects the broader implications of the county’s actions and the reality that many small business owners are afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation from the county. 

“We lose more and more family wineries and small businesses each year due to the difficult and hostile environment Napa County has created,” said Heather Griffin, a Partner at Summit Lake Vineyards.  “The maze of codes and compliance regulations are used and added to at the whim of Napa County.  We need the county to support our small businesses and families, not try to kill us all off. We are asking the state and federal government to step in to help us preserve what has made Napa such a special and historic place.”

According to court records, Napa County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Smith ruled in November of last year that the County was unlikely to prevail on the merits of its lawsuit against Hoopes Vineyards. Hoopes Vineyards filed a cross-complaint against the County and Smith-Madrone and Summit Lake wineries recently joined.  In spite of this ruling, the County has pressed on with its illegal action at extraordinary taxpayer expense, alleging that no one is allowed to stay on the property and consume wine in any format.  The County, however, does not have the authority to prohibit that activity. 

Hoopes has an O-2 permit which, pursuant to Business and Professions Code Section 23558, allows licensed winegrowers to “sell wine to consumers for consumption on the premises.” Importantly, the law holds that local authorities “may restrict, but not eliminate, [these] privileges.”

In Napa County, wineries that sought permits after 1990 had to go through a discretionary conditional use permit process in which those operators may agree to some restrictions that could limit their ability to sell wine or offer tastings and tours, such as limitations on hours of operation or number of visitors.  However, small wineries like Hoopes, Smith-Madrone and Summit Lake that were in existence before the Winery Definition Ordinance of 1990 were grandfathered in as an “integral part of the Napa Valley economy.” Napa County Code sections 18.16.020(H), 18.104.040 and 18.08.040 explicitly allow wineries with small winery use permits and exemptions in existence prior to 1990 (like Hoopes, Smith-Madrone and Summit Lake) to operate as wineries, including marketing, sales, and any related winery accessory uses, under their existing entitlements.

“Napa County must stop treating small family wineries like the red-headed step-child,” said Stu Smith, Founder and General Partner at Smith-Madrone Vineyards. “We pre- winery Definition Ordinance wineries are the goose that laid the golden egg for Napa County and now the County has turned on us and is seemingly strangling us.  The County must stop changing the rules from behind closed doors.”

The letter to federal and state prosecutors requesting an investigation and detailing the civil rights violations is available by clicking here. The case is Napa County v. Hoopes Family Winery, LLC, et al, Case No. 22CV001262.

Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery was founded by Stuart Smith in 1971 in the Spring Mountain  District appellation in the northern Napa Valley. The winery welcomes visitors three days a week and tours are always conducted by winemaker Charles Smith. The winery produces approximately 3,000 cases of estate-grown wines.

Summit Lake Vineyards was founded by Bob and Sue Brakesman in 1971, and is now the longest running family owned and operated winery on Howell Mountain.   The vineyard focuses on producing hand crafted, small production estate grown wines.  

Hoopes Vineyard is a small, family-owned winegrower and producer with deep roots in Napa Valley. They have been growing grapes in Oakville for nearly four decades, and producing wine since 1999. Hoopes acquired the property at the historic Hooper Creek facility in 2017 (which dates back to 1984) to open their brand up to direct customers. Now in their second generation, Lindsay Hoopes continues to  work on the farm with revered dedication to her family heritage in dogged pursuit of perfect wines. At the former-Hopper Creek property she also manages a farm-animal rescue, a regenerative produce farm, and loves to work the fields with her two children.



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