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09.12.2013  
 

Crusher Wine District Forming in Napa

Wineries cluster in industrial areas south of the city

 
by Paul Franson
 
 
crusher wine district
 
A group of wineries located in the southern part of the city of Napa are looking to establish a formal wine district named after the famous "Grape Crusher" statue that welcomes visitors to Napa.
Napa, Calif.—Though the name “Napa” is synonymous with fine wine, few wineries are located in the city of Napa itself, and most of them are little known. Instead, most wineries are in unincorporated parts of the county or small towns to the north.

That could change soon with the formation of the Crusher Wine District, a collection of wineries hidden away in two business parks in the southern part of the small city.

The district takes its name after the famous “Grape Crusher” statue of a man pressing grapes in a basket press on a hill overlooking Highway 29, the southern gateway to the Napa Valley. The statue is misnamed, which is odd in a valley filled with residents who are experts in winemaking.

Zoning change needed
The statue also overlooks Napa Commons, a business park to the north. That area plus another smaller area north of the Commons contains almost a dozen wineries and tasting rooms. Most are tiny, but not all, and managers of the park are trying to change the area’s restrictive zoning to allow more wine production and visitor amenities in the area.

The sparkplug behind the effort is Garrett Busch, scion of the family that owns the Meritage Resort, and manager of Trinitas Cellars, which has a tasting room in a cave next to the resort.

Ironically, Trinitas is the only winery in the park that’s just a tasting room, though it makes wines from vines on the hillside above and around the cave at nearby Starmont Winery, which is owned by Merryvale Vineyards in St. Helena, Calif.

Starmont, however, like Rocca Family Vineyards and Bourassa Vineyards nearby, are outside the district. “We had to set limits,” Busch said. “The wineries in the district are all within walking distance.”

Most of the wineries offer limited tasting, most by appointment, and some not at all.
Busch and his fiancée Betsy O’Neill, who is managing the effort, plan events and promotions to raise the visibility of the wineries.

Possible wine cluster development
Busch also has plans that could dramatically raise the visibility of the area. The Meritage has bought a large open space across the street from the hotel and plans to build both large conference facilities and a “vine village” there. While still in the early planning stages, the village would cluster a number of wineries and tasting rooms with a café or deli and event space. The city would have to change its zoning to allow wine production in the space, though tasting rooms are allowed.

Present zoning is left from the time, decades ago, when no one forecast that changing conditions would force many small wineries to crush grapes at industrial sites rather than among the vines.

It should be noted that the group is still in its formation process, and no wineries yet belong to the proposed organization, though many have expressed interest.

There’s no talk of seeking a formal appellation for the area, which likely doesn’t meet TTB requirements.

It should be noted that there are a few other wineries in Napa. Starmont is in a gerrymandered “popsicle” south of the city connected by a thin strip among Highway 29. St. Regis plans to operate a winery in the resort it hopes to build in this area, too.

In downtown Napa, Elaine St. Clair and Laina Brown have started production at St. Clair Brown Winery, and have a tasting room in a greenhouse located in a garden across the street. They also plan a café and brewery.

And Marketta Fourmeaux, former winemaker at Chateau Potelle, has tiny Marketta Winery in her basement near downtown.

There are also some small wineries like Reid Family Cellars in outlying areas of the city.

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