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Napa Valley Beyond the Fires, Small Family Farms Are Bureaucratically Being Squeezed Out

In the event you’ve not heard about this grassroots effort, here it is again, as we wonder so much about Napa Valley these days…


Save the Family Farms” is a group of owner-occupied grape growers, who make wine in Napa Valley and classify ourselves as “micro-producers.” We are small operations and the current COVID-19 economic crisis threatens our operational viability more than ever. Current Napa County regulations take a one-size-fits-all approach, requiring small family farms and vineyards to invest up to $10 million and several years trying to obtain a use permit. This short video below describes why small family farms and vineyards are important to Napa Valley and our path to economic viability via onsite tastings with direct to consumer sales.”

Save The Farms is a Napa Valley 501(3) non-profit, and I’m with them in spirit. I, too, worry about the small family farmers in Napa Valley. It is they who have a sense of community, charm, a true passion for their unique terroir, which they bought into long before it became chic to arrive.

As Ken Nerlove, of Elkhorn Peak Cellars, says in this video, “The small Farmer… that’s the character of the Napa Valley. That’s historically what the Napa Valley is about. And, when that goes away, um… the soul of Napa Valley can go away.”  The only way they can sell their wine is to have access to the direct consumer.

Legislation: Have to have access to direct consumer

  • In 1990, there were about 7,000 wholesale distribution houses. Today there are about 600 distributors.
    • They don’t want to take on small inventories, because they can’t make money with the brands.
  • Have to have access to direct consumer
    • It costs these small farmers million to do so; before they even make a pitch for sales. Think about that.

It makes no economic sense for small farmers to do so. They’re up against a rock and hard wall, it appears. Some of these farmers are only making 1,000 cases of wine a year.

This video is important to watch for all of the details.

No tasting rooms, no wine on-site can be sold; just how are they to survive? You can join their effort and follow this one.

This non-profit is in favor of the creation of a micro-winery-ordinance. It’s actually critical to this segment of wine in Napa Valley’s charm, a valuable diamond in the Napa Valley crown, the historical jewel around which the rest of the crown was constructed.



4 Responses to “Napa Valley Beyond the Fires, Small Family Farms Are Bureaucratically Being Squeezed Out”

  1. Bill Tobey - Wine Broker says:

    We definitely [need] small wineries in Napa Valley. We need government to streamline process and allow small wineries to succeed.

  2. Best of luck going up against city hall, so to speak. The little guy seems to lose most of the time. Time to rally all your customers with e-mails, etc. Maybe now that some of the bigger guys have been burned out, the powers that be might be convinced that letting the little guy survive might just be in Napa’s better interest. Wine tourists tend to appreciate personal winemaker contact when they visit. They get more of that with the smaller producers. It’s an uphill battle at best. But hang in there. Small Napa is definitely worth saving.

  3. Jo Diaz says:

    City Hall, indeed. Good one.

    As you’ve noted, Robert, there may now be the room needed to start over, but recreating a huge wheel, even for the big guys, will be massively expensive. Big guys might just invest elsewhere, where their money won’t be burned to ashes, once more. That gives room to smaller producers, but to sell their wine they need to pay Napa a greedy amount to get there… The current condition.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    I completely agree.

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