NAPA VALLEY, Calif. - Some small family-owned vineyards are banding together, hoping to add an amendment to Napa County's restrictions on them.
“The small farmer, that’s what Napa Valley is about," said Ken Nerlove, the owner of Elkhorn Peak Cellars. "That’s the character of the Napa Valley. When that goes away the soul of the Napa Valley goes away.”
For the last 37 years, Nerlove has worked his 28 acres in the Napa Valley, growing grapes and making wine at an off-site location, like many small growers. He worries about the future of his farm and Napa losing its roots. He wants his daughter to take over the business but says Napa County's permitting process makes it hard to get their wine in front of the consumer.
“The regulations favor big business, you’re encouraged to go big or go home in Napa," said Elise Nerlove Rutchick. "It’s creating an environment where small vineyard owners like us, we don’t have a chance.”
Napa County's current Winery Definition Ordinance was drafted in 1990 to ease congestion in the area. It prohibits the building of a tasting room in an agricultural zone unless it's tied to a winery production facility.
“We’d have to construct a production facility, a minimum cost of $5 million, no way it makes any sense," said Nerlove.
“I welcome big business, I welcome small business, I feel like there’s enough room for everyone, I just wish that the regulations in Napa supported that," said Nerlove Rutchick.
No tasting rooms and no sales on-site means fewer chances to get their wine out there according to the Nerloves. With this in mind, they joined "Save the Family Farms." The group of small farm owners wants to add a resolution to the WDO to help these "micro-wineries" find a pathway to tastings and compliance.
According to the group's website, they say 200 small family farms have sold to corporations in the last five years.
“We’d have to take on investors, and that’s not something we should have to consider," said Hayley Hossfeld from Hossfeld Vineyards, a member of the group. "We just want to keep the ethos for the family farm going and be economically viable for generations to come.”
The group says they're seeing opposition and support from within the Napa Valley. KTVU reached out to the county for comment but did not receive a response. The group hopes to present its proposal in the new year.
For more information about their effort, you can go to: https://www.savethefamilyfarms.com/