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!)
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,