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Co-op Winery for Downtown Napa?

Winemaker's plan would convert historic building, cement urban winery hub

by Paul Franson
The City of Napa last week invited prospective developers to submit bids for the historic Borreo Building in downtown Napa. Photo by Hannah Henry.
Napa, Calif.—Winemaker Michael Terrien hopes to turn the historic Borreo Building on the Napa River in downtown Napa into a showpiece cooperative winery. His plans emerged when the City of Napa issued a request for information and proposals for the building last week, inviting prospective developers to prepare and submit their bids for buying the building. The city plans to open these proposals in February.

The two-story stone building was built in 1887 and has served many purposes. It sits prominently in the city’s revitalized downtown. Prospective developers have envisioned various uses, but it offers challenges: limited parking, no windows on the riverside and a still-unfinished floodwall.

Those issues might not impede Terrien’s proposed use. For their size, wineries don’t have many employees; flooding might not impact wine stored in stainless steel tanks. The floodwall will be built as part of the city’s flood-control project nearing completion there.

Not Napa’s first downtown winery
It wouldn’t be the first winery in downtown Napa. John Patchett opened the first commercial winery in Napa County in 1859 in what is now the city of Napa, and others have operated in the town in the past. Today, along with many tasting rooms, there are already two less-visible wineries, and another is planned.

For some time, wineries have operated in a building at 880 Vallejo St., near downtown. It once housed 8,500-case Robert Craig Winery, now on Howell Mountain, with a tasting room not far from its former downtown site. It now is home to Vinoce and 20 Rows production as well as a tasting room.

Urban wineries bring special attractions. Although they don’t generally have adjacent vineyards, they allow visitors to visit a real winery and taste amid production equipment and barrels. In Napa County, they’re also free from many of the tight restrictions set for new wineries in unincorporated areas that prohibit restaurants, gift shops, inns or, famously, weddings.

Vinoce co-owner Lori Ness said the reaction to the winery downtown has been positive: Visitors like to be able to taste in a working winery without driving far or at all. The winery is only two blocks from the Westin Verasa and River Terrace Inn, for example, as well as the Napa Valley Wine Train Depot. Nuss’ sons, who work at the winery, hold popular concerts there regularly without worrying about neighbors.
Marketta Fourmeaux, who formerly owned Chateau Potelle with her ex-husband, operates tiny Marketta Winery in the basement of her house near downtown. Although Fourmeaux can’t maintain a formal tasting room, she can accept visitors.

In addition, winemaker Elaine St. Claire and marketer Laina Brown have received a permit for Brown St. Clair Winery with a microbrewery and deli at 1610 Action Ave., and the adjacent property at 816 Vallejo St., near Vinoce.

More ambitious plans
Terrien plans more than just a winery, however. He wants to involve the local grapegrowing community and the public to develop a cooperative winery that will benefit the community through a charitable foundation. It would also provide educational opportunities.

He has posted preliminary thoughts to to solicit the views of the public about what would work best.

The winery layout presented in the preliminary drawing has fermentation tanks on the first floor and barrel aging on the second floor. A tasting room would occupy the first floor; offices and a private function hall also would share the second floor.

The production area allocated within the structure is 4,500 square feet, restricting production to an estimated 3,000 cases per year. The lot is just 0.28 acres, imposing further restrictions on wine-production activities.

Parking is tight, but a parking structure is being built two blocks away at a new transportation center, and adequate parking also lies across Napa River in the heart of downtown.

Terrien anticipates signing up 180 vineyard members and getting a ton of grapes from 60 vineyards each year to produce small lots of top-quality wine that would be donated or sold for charitable grants to the community.

Terrien sees special benefits for growers: “While benefits will accrue to the entire community, the Borreo Winery will draw a straight line to the fundamental contribution the growers provide our industry. Wine brands and winemakers naturally upstage the vineyard, and the Borreo Winery's premise is to promote the land, the grape, and the grower.”

He added, “The Napa Valley Grapegrowers and the Land Trust of Napa County (whose easements are in many locations planted with vineyards) both recognize the contribution the Borreo Winery would offer their constituents. I am hoping we will elaborate the proposal together to engage growers in our common goal. However, at this time there is no formal endorsement of the winery proposal.”

He’s discussed the proposal with the Napa Valley Vintners, and said the association has made favorable suggestions.

Terrien said he needs to raise $2.5 million to cover start-up from 2012 to cash-positive in 2015. He estimates it would cost $1.4 million to renovate the building into a winery. The city already spent $1.4 million in 2006 for a seismic retrofit and an elevator (for ADA compliance) to raise the building to its current level. The appraised value of the empty Borreo Building shell is $432,000.

Terrien was most recently vice presiden t of operations at 4,000-case Kenzo Estate and previously was general manager and winemaker for 5,000-case Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma and 100,000-case Acacia Vineyards in Napa. He is a founding partner in Tricycle Wine Co. and the owner of Terrien Wines.

For more information contact Michael Terrien at or (707) 509-0050.

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