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  • Writer's pictureElkhorn Peak Cellars

Working to Save Napa's Small, Family Farms

Ken and Elise are working on big regulatory changes for Napa's smallest producers.

“Having farmed in the Napa Valley for the past 37 years, I have seen many changes during that time. Some good, some bad. But what I haven’t seen is an opportunity for the small farmer, like myself, to be able to compete in the wine industry. In order for small producers to be profitable, there must be an opportunity to sell wine direct to the consumer. Realistically, this requires the producer to be able to have customers taste their wines. But if we want to open our ranch up to visitors, we need to invest seriously. Napa County law currently requires small growers (like us) invest, on average, $5,000,000, to turn our small ranch into a “commercial winery estate.” Napa County demands a long list of expensive improvements and fees before a vineyard owner can host guests. The current path to compliance is not reasonable for the small, family farm. There’s no economic model where a small grapegrower, making 800 cases of wine annually, can recoup a $5M investment (not to mention the severe environmental impacts to the land). For example, we’d have to rip out quite a few vines in order to meet the county's parking lot standards...I don't think so.”– Ken

Save the Family Farms (STFF) is a consortium of small family wineries and growers who are driving awareness of the unique value of the small family winery experience in Napa Valley. This grassroots organization is working with Napa County to create a "Micro-Winery" Ordinance that will provide a reasonable path to compliance for Napa's smallest producers so they may host guests onsite.

The group started in 2017, and Ken and Elise became heavily involved in 2018; Elise is currently the Non-profit organization’s Vice President.

The group’s position is simple: Current regulations are “one-size-fits-all,” designed with large-scale wineries in-mind. But what works for a large winery business doesn't work for Napa's smallest producers. If we continue to force small businesses to conform to regulations designed for mega-wineries, the small wine business will go away forever in the Napa Valley.

News outlets are beginning to report on our issues too. In September 2019, Alexa Poteet, contributing writer for The Vintner Project brought our story to wine enthusiasts across the country. And on December 24, 2019 Save the Family Farms was front page news in the San Francisco Chronicle. Ken and Elise made their television debut on KTVU-FOX Channel 2 News on Christmas Day 2019 and have continued to publicly champion for small family farms in Napa County to news outlets around the Bay Area.

To learn how you can support the small family farmers in Napa Valley and to get additional information on Save the Family Farms visit:

Elise and Ken. Photo by Lyda Studios.
Elise and Ken. Photo by Lyda Studios.

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