A grape likely doesn’t care if it’s turned into wine in a bucolic Napa Valley vineyard setting or in a gritty industrial park. These days many visitors to wine country don’t care either.
Adventurers are finding their way to a growing number of wineries located near auto body shops and plumbing supply businesses — neighborhoods where vineyard vistas are not to be found.
The 10 or so urban wineries inside the Napa city limits can be found within walking distance of downtown and in far-flung business parks. Startup costs are much less, government regulations on tours and tastings fewer, so here they come.
One such winery is Spelletich Family Wine Co., which hosted 50 visitors in March at its Napa Valley Commons business park site as part of Napa Valley Vintners’ Morning in the Winery program.
The fully functioning winery on Napa Valley Corporate Drive exists inside tilt-up walls housing more than 1,000 wine barrels.
Owners Tim and Barb Spelletich divvy up the work with daughter Kristen. Tim is cellar master, Barb is the winemaker and Kristen is general manager. The family produces between 4,000 and 6,000 cases a year under three labels.
Spelletich Family Wine Co., which moved to the corporate park in 2013 from another facility near the Napa County Airport, also does custom crush orders for clients.
“If I could afford to buy 50 acres or 100 acres and build, I would do it,” said Barb Spelletich. “But I can’t afford it. This is what you do when you’re a small family winery.”
“And these industrial spaces are beautiful for us because, yes, they’re not like any of the estates up there, but these are fabulously wealthy people that can do that,” Spelletich added.
Napa residents at the open house were happy to have a winery in town to visit.
“This gives people an opportunity to go wine tasting and meet the owners,” said Rod Santos. “Frankly, as a resident, it keeps people off the roads.”
Bob Skupny, who came to the open house with wife, Kate, said he does not believe there will ever be too many wineries.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as too many anything. The market pretty well will control it. If the market thinks (there are) too many, there won’t be any more.”
A short drive from Spelletich is Falcor Napa Valley, also at Napa Valley Commons, where oenophiles taste wines in a home-like setting. The winery includes a tasting room and full production facility, along with a commercial kitchen for parties.
Clients are referred by The Meritage Resort and Spa nearby, word of mouth and the Internet, said Zack Miskel, wine club manager.
The winery, which offers as many as 14 varietals, produced about 7,500 cases last year. While Falcor’s owners have not ruled out building a winery one day, the company has renewed the lease at the corporate park for five more years.
Laurie Rich, a partner at Falcor, sees no drawbacks to being in a corporate park. “We just don’t see any disadvantages at all,” she said in her Southern drawl. They let their prospective clients know without ambiguity that Falcor is in a corporate park, she said.
“It’s an easy location to get in and out of,” Rich said. “People pass by it coming into town and leaving town. We’re the first stop in and the last stop out. We’re super-convenient to get to.”
Just north of downtown on Vallejo Street sits the Twenty Rows winery where Lori and Brian Nuss produce merlot, sauvignon blanc and other wines.
“The economics down here work very well for us,” said Lori Nuss, whose family also produces under the Vinoce label, with fruit from its vineyard on Mount Veeder.
Since 2013, Laina Brown and business partner Elaine St. Clair, a winemaker and brewery master, have run St. Clair Brown Winery, also on Vallejo Street, a short walking distance from Soscol Avenue.
Visitors find the winery online where the winery’s website calls St. Clair Brown an “urban winery located in the city of Napa.” Neighborhood residents and workers in the industrial area also walk over to the winery’s Garden Eatery.
“I really like being in the city. It’s nice being part of the … merchant community and being part of the neighborhood,” Brown said.
St. Clair Brown includes a tasting room and café, which operates from a glass greenhouse. Customers can taste and buy wine while eating small plates close to the company’s garden planted with herbs, strawberries and other vegetables.
Sixty fruit trees have also been planted, in part to provide a natural fence, espalier style, near their 17-stall parking lot. Across the street is the 2,300-square-foot winery and a future brewery in a former warehouse.
Land costs in the city are so much cheaper than winery-suitable locations in unincorporated Napa County, Brown said. Financially, “it made a huge difference.”
Also, St. Clair Brown Winery wanted to stay open after 6 p.m. and did not want to be “by appointment only” like the newer wineries that have opened in unincorporated Napa County after 1990. St. Clair Brown’s hours now are noon to 8 p.m.
St. Clair Brown Winery produces 1,800 cases with fruit from a dozen or so growers, Brown said. Several varietals currently available sell for $38 a bottle.
The company wants to build a commercial brewery and a restaurant in a section of the warehouse adjacent to the winery.
According to city senior planner Michael Walker, any winery in the city of Napa is subject to the 75 percent Napa Valley grape-sourcing requirement. Rules for tours, wine tastings and retail are determined through the use permit process.