A Bridge to the New Normal in Napa Valley
Save the Family Farms (STFF) advocates for a level playing field for all Napa Valley wineries (big, small, and micro) to co-exist and have the ability to perform tastings and direct to consumer (DTC) sales. The current shut-down (COVID-19) of winery visitation means that big and small wineries are now faced with the challenge that small family vineyards who custom crush have always experienced – no ability to host onsite tastings and DTC sales. Everyone is now feeling the pain and many of us are not going to survive.
The Napa Board of Supervisors (BOS) has a unique opportunity to do the right thing for the right reason at the right time to ensure everyone can participate in helping our County recover. There is no better time than now for a unified effort that is inclusive and has everyone large and small working to come together.
A “common ground of economic viability” exists for all small businesses, grape growers, vintners, small family vineyards, etc. and we encourage the BOS to create a path where everyone can participate. The Winegrowers of Napa County and Napa Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce officially support STFF’s efforts to work with the BOS in finding a path forward since small family farm & vineyard wine tastings enable more diversity, deliver a new level of visitor engagement, and enhance Napa Valley’s overall reputation.
This is a time when evolution is important. According to Rob McMillan, EVP Silicon Valley Bank: “If we’re ever going to build a bridge to the new normal and include the millennials along with new revenue sources, it will be the small, family farms & vineyards that do it.” “STFF (Micro-Wineries) can help restart the Napa economy with a very low impact open-air (socially distance with masks, etc.) tasting experiences to attract the new consumer.”
Napa County’s current one-size-fits-all permit framework does not address small family farms & vineyards. Save the Family Farms is asking the Napa County BOS to create an affordable path to compliance by formally recognizing micro-wineries and directing staff to develop a draft ordinance that would enable small family farms & vineyards to generate a livable, sustainable income. A Micro-Winery ordinance would legitimize, justify, and preserve the small family farms & vineyards in Napa County, very similar to how the Small Winery Ordinance addressed existing small wineries.
Making small family farms (Micro-Wineries) economically viable is an objective within the Napa County General Plan on June 04, 2013, which specifically states:
Policy AG/LU-16: “In recognition of their limited impacts, the County will consider affording small wineries a streamlined permitting process. For purposes of this policy, small wineries are those that produce a small quantity of wine using grapes mostly grown on-site and host a limited number of small marketing events each year. “
Action Item AG/LU-16.1: “Consider amendments to the Zoning Ordinance defining “small wineries,” a “small quantity of wine,” “small marketing events,” and “mostly grown on-site,” and establishing a streamlined permitting process for small wineries which retains the requirement for a use permit when the winery is in proximity to urban areas.”
Save the Family Farms also offers a great value exchange of additional benefits by providing viable alternatives for the Board of Supervisors to achieve several of their key pillars and strategic actions.
· Napa County is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and the environment and to providing leadership and services to advance the health, safety, and economic well-being of current and future generations.
Without providing access to economic viability by enabling access to tastings and DTC, future generations will not be able to continue to farm legacy vineyards. Small businesses will likely sell properties and/or cease agricultural activity altogether.
· Innovation: We improve the quality of service by encouraging creativity and being open to change.
There is no better time with the COVID-19 crisis for the BOS to be creative and balance the need for compliance with the practical realities of supporting small farming businesses and vineyards within Napa Valley.
· Collaborative, Connected, and Engaged Community: Sustain existing programs that contribute to improved quality of life for all community members and explore opportunities to develop programs and services where gaps currently exist.
Creation of an accessible, attainable path to compliance for Micro-Wineries that cannot afford large production facilities and have no need for them, and fills a gap that would facilitate economic sustainability while enabling a diversity of choice and experience.
· Livable Economy for All: Protect family-owned businesses, local wineries, and small farmers as a vital part of the economy, including preservation of the small vineyard exemption.
Small family farms cannot survive without the ability to host tastings and DTC.
Author: George O’Meara, Author: Collaborative Leadership: Lessons from the Street to the Boardroom. Napa owner 13 years, retired, now growing grapes and home winemaker.
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