The Rodeo marina, with its boat-docking areas mired in mud and silt, seen in an aerial photo in May 2004.(Courtesy Kinnetic Labs Inc.)
The Rodeo marina, with its boat-docking areas mired in mud and silt, seen in an aerial photo in May 2004.(Courtesy Kinnetic Labs Inc.)

RODEO -- A winery? In Rodeo?

A former top municipal official plans to turn the once-thriving but now mudbound and semidormant Rodeo Marina into a tourist destination, with restaurants, shops and a touch of the Napa wine country.

Marc Grisham, who retired in 2011 as Pittsburg city manager and once held the same post in Pinole, envisions a winery and a restaurant on part of the 12.9-acre site, which recently was hooked up to the sewer network feeding into the Rodeo wastewater treatment plant.

Last week, the Rodeo Municipal Advisory Council unanimously recommended issuance of a land use permit for the Four Fools Winery. The Contra Costa County zoning administrator will take up the matter at a hearing Monday.

"They say that anyone going into the wine business is a fool," Grisham said in an email last week, explaining the new enterprise's name. "We do it for fun, friendship, and believe in Rodeo."

"The four fools are two married couples who have known each other for over 40 years," Grisham said. They are Dana and Marc Grisham and Marcia and John Conroy; the latter is the winemaker.

The winery would be on the higher part of the marina grounds that currently contains a caretaker's house; it would include a fermentation and bottling operation and a tasting room, and could host special events for up to 75 people, Grisham told the council.

The plan is to process about eight to 10 tons of grapes a year to produce 400 to 500 cases of wine. The winery will be "something unique for Rodeo," Grisham said.

"The idea is for this to be very much Rodeo's winery," he said.

Four Fools would not be Rodeo's first winery. Sometime before 1949, Frank Leal, an immigrant from Portugal's Azores archipelago, started the Leal Family Winery in downtown Rodeo, said the founder's daughter-in-law, who lives in Crockett; she did not want her name used.

Later, Leal's sons took over the winery and produced wine under the label TLC -- which stood for their names Thomas, Lawrence and Calvin.

Four Fools, and any other businesses at the site, would lease their space from the site owner Rodeo Marina LLC, in which Grisham is the managing partner.

The marina property just got a major boost with the construction of a sewer line that extends upflow from the Rodeo Sanitary District's treatment plant under the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, ending at a manhole cover in front of the now-closed Bennett's Marina seafood restaurant.

The name is a reference to Carl Bennett, a longtime previous operator of the marina, then named Bennett's Marina.

Up to now, the marina depended on a septic system, as has the adjacent 3.8-acre former Joseph's Fishing Resort.

The sewer project, which cost an estimated $1.734 million, was paid for by the now-defunct Contra Costa County Redevelopment Agency to stimulate economic activity in the waterfront area as part of a greater downtown Rodeo redevelopment effort, according to county reports.

The project does not extend to Joseph's, although a long-term goal was to have the entire waterfront, including Joseph's and the adjacent East Bay Regional Park District-owned Lone Tree Point area, on sewer service, said Maureen Toms, principal planner with the county Department of Conservation and Development. But with the dissolution of redevelopment agencies effective Feb. 1, 2012, future funding dried up, Toms said.

An annexation application to the Contra Costa Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees local government boundaries, submitted by the Rodeo Sanitary District earlier this year covers both the Rodeo Marina and Joseph's Resort.

The Rodeo marina area once was a prime Northern California bass fishing spot, until it fell into decline starting around the 1970s when the harbor became increasingly mired in mud and silt. In 2008, Grisham's group proposed to dredge the harbor as part of an industrial-commercial, mixed-use development to include a marine construction company that planned to relocate to Rodeo from Oakland.

Last week, Grisham said the marine construction company is no longer in the plan, one reason being that it would be inconsistent with the site's commercial recreation designation under the General Plan. He mentioned an eco-lodge and a facility for kayaks as possible future features at the marina.

Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.