The Micro-Wineries of Napa Valley

EDIT on 1/24/23: I am impressed so many folks have clicked on my post to read about Micro-Wineries!! Thank you so much. I’ve added a few more Micro-Winery websites to the list below – please check them out and support Napa’s smallest producers.

The Micro-Wineries of Napa Valley

I’m here to introduce a new classification of winery to the Berserker community, it’s called The Micro-Winery. Have you heard of us? The Micro-Winery designation was formally established in Napa County on May 5, 2022 after 5 years of blood, sweat, tears and lobbying by Napa’s small family farm community.

My name is Elise Nerlove, I am a second-generation winegrower and winemaker at Elkhorn Peak Cellars, and I am part of the small but mighty team that brought the Micro-Winery into existence. Our mission: keep Napa Valley’s small family farms viable for future generations amid local regulations that favor corporate entities and investment companies. I’m here share the story of how the Micro-Winery came to be, lessons learned, and what the future looks like for Napa Valley’s smallest winery producers.

Let’s begin with, what is a Micro-Winery?

A Micro-Winery, by definition, is a winery that produces less than 5,000 gallons of wine annually (about 2,000 cases of 750MLs). Estate vineyards are mandatory, in fact at least 75% of a Micro-Wineries production must come from grapes grown on the estate. Marketing events are prohibited and visitation is very limited to no more than 10 round-trips/day (including employees and deliveries). The spirit and intent of a Micro-Winery is to protect and preserve Napa’s small family farms, allowing them to operate as the small businesses they are (most of which are multi-generational).

Why wouldn’t Micro-producers pursue a traditional winery permit like everyone else?

The traditional winery permit process in Napa County takes 2 to 5 years at a cost of $200,000 to $500,000 with no guarantee that you will be awarded a permit at the end of the process. If you get a permit, you then have the privilege to build a winery at a cost of $1 million to $5 million dollars.

Traditional wineries are also built with more capacity than a Micro-Winery would ever need. Approximately 250 physical wineries have been approved in Napa County since 1990; most of those winery permits are for approximately 20,000 gallons of wine (about 8,000 cases of wine), some are for 50,000 gallons (20,000 cases of wine), and small portion of those winery permits granted allow 100,000+ gallons (40,000+ cases of wine). The smallest winery Napa County has approved in the last 30 years is for 7,500 gallons annual production (about 3,000 cases of wine) and was built by famed consulting winemaker named Philippe Melka around 2010. Nothing smaller has been approved since…

The traditional winery process in Napa County isn’t feasible for the Micro-Winery business model. So a small group of Micro-producers got together and approached the Napa County wine industry and elected officials for a change. Our position was that Napa law unnecessarily restricts small growers/producers from accessing consumers, on the grounds that small growers/producers are financially unable to construct a traditional winery as defined by Napa County. We asked Napa to create a reasonable path forward for wine business that were smaller than the traditional winery standards. It took us a really long time (too long in my opinion) to convince Napa County to support its Micro-Winery businesses.

Here’s a great video we created back in 2019 that brings the problem to life: Who Will Save the Family Farms? - YouTube

What does this mean for the Napa Valley?

We’ve all heard that “Napa Valley is becoming too corporate,” and this new regulation should bring more mom-and-pop wine businesses above ground.

There are about 25 small family farmers in Napa County actively pursuing (or planning to pursue) a Micro-Winery permit and designation. We’re all extremely excited and grateful to be among the first producers in Napa Valley to hold the Micro-Winery designation. The Micro-Winery permit process is long and arduous, but is designed to be less costly than pursing a traditional winery permit…. keep up with us as we navigate through it all.

I’m new to Wine Berserkers (less than two weeks on the platform!) but I’ve been reading a lot and have been happy to see a few of my fellow Micro-Wineries being talked about on these forums. For your convenience, here are links to the Napa Micro-Wineries that helped pass the new laws in Napa County:

www.elkhornpeak.com (this is me!)

www.heritageschoolvineyards.com

www.rahnestate.com

www.barlowvineyards.com

www.gratusvineyards.com

www.hoopesvineyard.com

www.maroonwines.com

www.hossfeldvineyards.com

www.hillwalkervineyards.com

www.chaixwines.com

www.promisewine.com

www.Battuellovineyards.com

www.hillfamilyestate.com

https://oreocows.net/

https://www.sciandrivineyards.com/

https://www.ilsleyvineyards.com/

https://www.friasfamilyvineyard.com/

https://www.gemstonevineyard.com/

I encourage you to shop small whenever you can! The small guys appreciate the business and are doing really extraordinary, creative and innovative things in the world of wine.

I’m excited to be part of the berserker community now, and shameless plug, I’m participating in BD14 this year; I am really looking forward to the festivities!

Cheers and Merry Christmas,

Elise

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Very cool. Thanks for sharing all this.

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Excellent Elise. Thanks for the PSA. I will try and familiarize myself with the wineries and growers via your link

The Berserker community really embraces small and family owned as a precious commodity and puts their support behind these types of efforts. The care and craftsmanship in these types of businesses is unparalleled so thanks for bringing the information to our forum

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I can tell this community embraces the small guys! It’s great to be here.

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Thank you for giving it a read :clinking_glasses:

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:smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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Good job Elise!

It’s sad that pretty much all the counties in the public consciousness can thank winemakers for putting them on the map, yet they reward them by making it impossible to start a winery there. Nobody would have even heard of Napa or Sonoma if it wasn’t for winemakers and wineries making those names household. What irony.

That’s why all the smaller wineries tend to crop up in other areas now, because they’re physically not allowed to do it in the locations they take fruit from.

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Wine and/or election controversy. Hello Maricopa County!

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@EliseNerlove This is an absolutely INCREDIBLE achievement, both for you and for the valley! Congratulations and THANK YOU from the other small producers in the area. This has provided us with a realistic pathway to eventually transition to our own estate, something that was previously almost impossible as a small startup business. If you can’t tell, Michael, Marc, and our team were incredibly happy when this went through.

We are fortunate enough to have a founder/winemaker that has a “day job” in the valley and can make our wines in that facility, but not everyone has that luxury. Most are relegated to a custom crush if they want to realize their dream of creating their own project in Napa.

Cheers to you and all of the other micro-wineries that helped pushed this through!

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This is a very cool development, thank you for the education! :wine_glass:

Great post, thank you for the info!

did not realize Hoopes was a micro - great QPR wines

Small volume & estate grape mandate? Awesome!

But why would you want to limit visitation to 10 per day, including employees? Am I not understanding this correctly? so basically no customers can visit? would seem to limit interest.

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Likely a Napa County rule, at least for visitors. Perhaps they want to be good neighbors.

I visited Venge in 2014 and despite their large and immaculate tasting “room”, they were limited to something like 20 visitors a day with their permit at the time.

Additional, but likely somewhat outdated information here:

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Unless you’re saving it all for your BD post, do you mind telling us a little more about your winery and what your wines are like?

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Lindsay Hoopes was an integral part of the passage of the Micro-Winery Ordinance in Napa County. And the kicker is, Hoopes was already an established winery in Napa, so she didn’t directly benefit from her volunteer work…she worked with us because she believed in the cause; she’s an incredible figure in the industry and someone who I admire greatly. Here’s one of the opinion pieces she published on plight of the small family farms in Napa County: https://www.savethefamilyfarms.com/post/the-major-issues-small-family-farms-face-in-napa-county

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@tpetty great observation. The visitation number is very intentional - 10 roundtrips is the assumed residential standard in Napa County. We had to prove the minimal impact of allowing Micro-Wineries to operate, and to do that we wanted to position the Micro-Winery model as something that was more comparable to the environmental impacts of residential property rather than commercial property. After all, nearly all of our members have the desire to host limited guests daily, and host at a picnic table or at their kitchen table. And then there is the issue of road and street standards, which, at the time we were formulating the Micro-Winery Ordinance, stipulated that a road/parcel that saw more than 40 average daily trips (ADTs) would trigger a traffic impact report ($$$$) and even go as far as to require a left hand turning lane with traffic light ($$$$$$$$$). 40 ADTs sounds like a lot, but parcels over 10 acres in Napa can have 2 homes (generating 10 ADTs each) + an in-law unit (generating 5 ADTs), and then you add on top of that a Micro-Winery at 10 ADTs, and you’re walking close the 40 ADT line.

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@Chris_Seiber It’d be my pleasure. I have my BD14 offer ready for launch (we’re also signed up for Preview day, with an early bird Grand Cru bonus offer too!), so borrowed some of my writing from my Berserkerday post:

Elkhorn Peak is an 8-acre Pinot Noir vineyard commonly referred to as a homestead vineyard; it’s not your usual Napa Valley estate. My Dad, Ken Nerlove, planted the vineyard back in 1983, and is still the master grower today. I’m second generation grapegrower and winemaker, and also run our email/wine club. Our relaxed, working-farm mentality harkens back to how Napa used to be in the 1970s and 1980s, which is fine by us. Our flagship wine is our traditional Pinot Noir, of which we produce 500 cases annually. You won’t find Elkhorn Peak in any wine shops or restaurants; the family business is too small to distribute into the broader wine retail market. Instead, we proudly share our wine with their Wine Club members and offer wine for sale directly through their website, elkhornpeak.com.

The vineyard is farmed (non-certified) organic by my Dad and me. We do most of the work ourselves, but bring in crews on the weekend for pruning, harvest and leafing. We strive to produce fruit forward wines and deploy a minimal intervention philosophy in the winery. You might be surprised to hear that we don’t do any whole cluster fermentation with our Pinot Noirs. Our site (in conjunction with our clone selection) produces tiny grape clusters, and we find the influence of stems masks the bright and vibrant fruit characteristics in our wines. Our Pinot Noirs tend to fall within the 14.2-14.8% ABV range. Our Traditional Pinot Noir is aged in 100% neutral French oak barrels for 12 months before being bottled. Our Pinot Noir Reserve is aged in 15% NEW French Oak barrels for 12 months before being bottled.

We’re offering really great 3,4 and 6 bottle packages for BD14 – with wine discounts and shipping discounts. If you’re interested in trying our wines, BD14 would be a great day to order!

And if you find yourself in Napa soon, please reach out – we’d love to have Berserkers visit the ranch!

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Thank you @CharlesM :blush:

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How did you dad pick pinot noir, given what most of the plantings in Napa are? Was it a love of his, or something about the site in particular where he thought pinot would do best?

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Great question. We’re on the southern end of the Napa Valley, we experience are maritime influence from the San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay. Foggy mornings and breezy afternoons - the Pinot Noir loves it. Our micro-climate is a lot like the Los Carneros AVA, which is only a few miles (south west) of us.

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