When people think of the Napa Valley, they often think of the big, the grand, the luxurious and the over-the-top. But there remain small family farms in the famous region, and this past March, they finally got a lifeline.
After four years of effort, the Micro-Winery Ordinance was unanimously passed, paving a way for very small farms to sell estate-grown wines directly to consumers. Previously, this was not possible as a “winery” had to consist of 10 or more acres with an on-site production facility to be legally permitted under Napa County’s Winery Definition Ordinance. The goal of the Micro-Winery Ordinance was to allow farms of fewer than 10 acres without a facility to qualify, where appropriate, as wineries, too.
“The Micro-Winery Ordinance will change the Napa Valley as we know it,” says Elise Nerlove. Nerlove is a second generation grapegrower and owner of Elkhorn Peak Cellars, which farms an eight-acre vineyard in south Napa and makes about 800 cases a year.
A group of 25 small producers, including Hoopes Vineyard, Chaix Wines and Hill Family Estate, banded together as a nonprofit called Save the Family Farms to push the effort through. Elkhorn Peak hopes to be Napa Valley’s first micro winery.
“Napa Valley has been very successful, but we are losing small family farms in the name of premiumization,” says Nerlove. “Nearly 200 small, family-owned vineyards have closed or been sold over the past five years. And when the small family farm is gone forever, the soul of Napa Valley will be gone, too.”