Caymus Vineyards Files Federal Lawsuit Alleging Discriminatory Treatment of Napa County Wineries in Reopening Plan

Caymus Vineyards announced its filing of a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Governor Gavin Newsom and California State Public Health Officer Sonia Angell alleging discriminatory treatment in the state’s reopening plan for non-essential businesses. The reopening plan’s 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. The lawsuit asks the court to allow Caymus Vineyards—and by extension all Napa County wineries—to reopen wine tastings, as Napa County has determined that it meets the state’s Phase 2 guidelines of Stage 2.

California’s current Stage 2 of its reopening plan permits a wide array of businesses to reopen, including retailers, restaurants, personal services, places of worship, and childcare. California’s recent orders have broadened the scope of allowed services as restaurants in most counties may now provide food service for sit-down meals. For wineries, however, the most recent orders permit the reopening of winery tasting areas only if they also provide sit-down meals. Any winery that does not or cannot provide such meals – and provides only wine tasting– may not reopen. The complaint alleges this makes no sense, and specifically harms Napa County wineries because county law prohibits wineries from offering full-meal service in the first place.

“If it’s safe for restaurants and other wineries to serve meals, it’s undeniably safe for wineries to open for tastings. Our lawsuit makes a simple demand – that we be treated fairly and equally,” said Chuck Wagner, founder and President of Caymus Vineyards. “We take public health laws seriously, and we’re not asking for special treatment.”

Caymus and Napa County’s 500+ other wineries have suffered greatly as a result of Covid-19 and the need for social distancing. Caymus continues to support the necessary work of public-health officials to promote safety and reduce the risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus. However, Caymus’s lawsuit contends that once Governor Newsom allowed a small sub-group of wineries to open for tastings, he must apply the law fairly and equally to all. Instead, 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,” said 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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