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Having farmed in the Napa Valley for the past 36 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. As the law now requires, small growers like myself would have to invest upwards of $2 million to build a wine production facility; existing Napa County laws do not allow small producers to have tastings without a production facility. This is not realistic for a small producer, nor does it make any economic business sense.

Save The Family Farms is a grassroots organization that is trying to make create a policy that will allow the “small guy” to stay in business and continue to farm his/her land.

I support Save The Family Farms because they understand the importance of maintaining the rural agriculture that the Napa Valley is founded on, while giving the small producer the opportunity to exist in Napa.

I have a 28-acre ranch with eight acres of grapes. I do not want to construct new buildings, widen roads, put in new septic systems, new water supply systems, remove vines and vegetation and change the face of our land so I can do tastings to sell 800 cases of wine a year. It doesn’t make economic sense.

Napa says they want to maintain the rural-ness of the Napa Valley. But for us to play by their rules, we must build production facilities to make it work.

And if we build these production facilities, we would need to hire workers to run the facility, which would result in more cars and trucks on the roads to support the facility and all of the related issues that come with running a wine production facility. It is not necessary nor is it a viable plan for the future of the Napa Valley.

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Napa Valley is the premiere wine-tasting destination in the United States. In order for the Napa Valley to maintain that title we must be progressive in our land management and our marketing leadership.

How long can the Napa Valley continue to have mega-wineries with $80-$100 tasting fees and continue to attract the changing demographics of the new breed of wine tasters? Diversity is the answer.

Give the customer the opportunity to taste wine in a quaint vineyard with the owner or grower or winemaker. A one-on-one experience that will attract more customers to come to the Napa Valley. What is the downside to this?

I support Save The Family Farms because they have put together some well thought-out guidelines on how this process would work to benefit the small growers, the Napa Valley and the customers who support the Napa Valley.

Ken Nerlove

Napa

Editor's note: This first appeared on the Save the Family Farms blog.

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