Part 4: A Call to Action
Although there is no shortage of capital entering Napa, or businesses thriving in the corporate sector, family-owned grower-producers are swimming upstream to keep their businesses afloat. These multi-generational farmers and winemakers cannot remain economically viable without access to direct-to-consumer sales, namely in the form of tastings on their vineyard sites.
The very foundation and historical roots of the region are being threatened as the pandemic and wildfires continue to wreak havoc on small businesses. These macro-environmental factors have a disproportionate effect on small-business. But, what is little discussed, is how the biggest hurdle forcing small business out-of-business are the oppressive regulatory hurdles with respect to tasting rooms unique to Napa. These roadblocks are shuttering businesses faster than you can say COVID.
One of these multi-generational farms fighting for survival is Hoopes Family Vineyard.
Lindsay Hoopes, in partnership with Save the Family Farms, is proposing two Legislative Calls to Action, entitled together as the “Micro-winery Ordinance,” designed to allow small grower-producers to participate in limited on-site tastings without having to construct a large-scale production facility on-site first. This requirement to develop a production facility is unique to Napa, requires access to capital in excess of 5-10 million dollars, and ironically flies in the face of the anti-development objectives of the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO). Without granting access to on-site-tastings, small producers like Hoopes Vineyard will not be able to survive in business despite histories in the valley of forty years or more.
Economic changes in the Valley and the Wine Industry Globally have foreclosed other sales channels, and COVID and wildfires have accelerated that trend.
Now, about Hoopes Vineyard. In 1981, Spencer Hoopes purchased a 12 acre home and empty lot in Oakville which, at the time, was a relatively “undesirable” part of Napa Valley. After serving in the Army Reserves out of the Presidio in San Francisco, Hoopes longed for a simpler way of life and a refuge from the fog and the urban hustle and bustle. Hoopes decided to grow wine grapes after consulting with neighbors – which, if you can believe it, was not the obvious decision at the time – and spent two decades focusing on farming the land. Spencer did not begin making wine until many years later, in 1999.
Around the same time period, Hoopes’ daughter, Lindsay, was returning from college and had an interest in getting involved in the family business. Spencer wanted her to find her own path in the world, though, and reiterated the challenges facing farmers and agriculture. In short, he wouldn’t give her a job. Lindsay spent a year working at Gallo Family Vineyards, but wanted to return to small, boutique farming. Spencer still wasn’t convinced. So, forced to find an alternative path, Lindsay made her way to law school and ended up working for Kamala Harris in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. She was the first published author in post-Crawford evidentiary admission, which translated to an accelerated career focused on high-profile cold hits, homicides and domestic violence.
But, just as her career was really taking off, her father became quite ill.
“He was in a coma for many months, and unable to care for himself. For close to a year, I took care of the business while working full time as a DA and caring for him. When he decided he could not return to the business, I made the difficult decision to stay on the farm and leave my prosecutorial career —with a few conditions,” said Lindsay Hoopes. “I needed to create my own business that I was passionate about. I was extremely proud and grateful for the foundation he created— but I needed to put my fingerprint on the wine industry and Napa as a whole. I wanted to be part of the change that I wanted to see.”
Hoopes assumed the helm of the winery, which would prove to be both challenging and rewarding. Passion has been at the center of the roller coaster she has had to navigate through, including construction in the middle of wildfires, power outages and now a worldwide pandemic. “It’s a lot of responsibility, but yields a lot of pride. Everything we have, we have literally made with our hands without outside investment,” said Hoopes.
As a young CEO, Lindsay Hoopes appeals to a younger customer base, which gives her a competitive advantage. She looks to innovate and create a new wine experience and product not only in Oakville, but in all of Napa Valley, while remaining true to her father’s original vision for the property. “Craft beer means something, but no one understands that wine is the same type of industry— we are craft wine. We are handcrafted. We are family-owned, and we actually grow what we make,” said Lindsay Hoopes.
As an entirely female run and operated company, Hoopes Vineyards is positioned to align itself with Napa Valley’s evolution. It is time for the region to become more approachable, more socially aware, and known for a casual intimacy that prioritizes wine tasting in gardens over luxurious structures. In conjunction with Save the Family Farms, this is a large-scale strategic effort to give customers further accessibility to what truly makes the Napa Valley great and what consumers are looking for today.
“Today, consumers seek authentic experiences, not smoke and mirrors. They want to understand the process and the product—complete visibility—not antiseptic or carefully crafted branding stories. Visitors want to enjoy relaxed and approachable experiences. These authentic family wine-stories exist In Napa but can’t be told or shared with customers because of Napa’s prohibitive regulation. Without options for maintaining a viable business, these families are leaving — and ironically, agriculture, heritage, family-farms, multigenerational small businesses – these were the very things that the WDO sought to protect, but is now forcing out of town,” noted Lindsay Hoopes.
At the end of the day, public outcry lights the way. A call to action is required both locally and nationally as consumers need to be a part of the solution in advocating for small producer’s survival in Napa Valley. In many ways, the Save the Family Farm movement could very well help drive a trend nationally as small family owned and boutique wineries struggle for survival.
2015 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon- dark ruby red in color with flavors of black cherry, cassis, tea with a little bit of spice box. This wine has great tannic structure with a nice long finish. This full-bodied estate wine would go great with a nice dry-aged porterhouse steak- a great holiday wine as we prepare for the cold nights ahead of us.