is considering increasing the minimum parcel size required to build a winery, from 10 to 40 acres. This is a classist move that favors existing wineries and could prevent some small landowners from stepping up to join the elite.
It's also one of the best moves Napa can make right now to address its longterm growth challenges.
Napa County already has 395 wineries, including 49 grandfathered in on rural properties of less than 10 acres. It's likely that among the remaining 5,000 parcels of 10 acres or more, there's another Martha's Vineyard that would really shine if allowed to be made and bottled on its own.
Of course, Martha's is one of Napa's most famous vineyards, yet its owners have not needed to build a winery in order for its grapes to be recognized. Nor have they needed a winery to profit from their land, or increase its value.
Napa decided decades ago that its future is high-end agriculture. No region in the United States, and arguably the world, is better at turning a local name and image into stacks of money.
Napa can't really grow much more without hurting its image.
In 1995, Napa County produced more grapes than it bottled. Today, it bottles more than twice as many grapes as it grows. More wineries doesn't mean more grapes -- it means more demand for grapes, which means Napa brands must use more non-Napa fruit. Even when wines are clearly labeled with a California appellation, if consumers see a Napa brand, they associate it with the Napa Valley brand.
It's always hard for government to balance the needs of the many with the rights of the few. There are multi-generational families in Napa County who own small properties and who hope to move from being growers to vintners. A larger minimum parcel size would prevent that.
But Robert Mondavi taught everyone in Napa that their fortunes rise together. And not just for the wine industry. As long as the Napa Valley brand has power, growers can sell their grapes for more money than growers anywhere else in the country. Even without development rights, Napa vineyard land is the most valuable agricultural land in the country. Napa County has a strong economy and tax base and good public schools and hospitals thanks to the value of its wines.
Napa doesn't need more wineries to maintain its image; if anything, it needs fewer. County leaders need to keep that big picture in mind.