Napa Valley is one of the world's greatest wine destinations, but you can spend hours driving from winery to winery to sample a range of wines. If all goes according to newly announced plans, an easier alternative is around the corner: Les Garagistes Napa, a pedestrian-friendly artisanal village to be developed south of the city of Napa. Twelve small wineries—all just steps apart—are expected to set up shop on the premises, making it possible to try various wines in one afternoon.
Although the American Canyon location lies outside Napa Valley's more scenic and famous wine-tourism routes, for new and small producers, it's more viable than Napa, where land prices are at an all-time high and there's limited room for new development.
Les Garagistes Napa will be an "outlet for talented, creative winemakers who make small quantities of handcrafted wines," said Tony Cartlidge, one of the three project founders and an owner of the Cartlidge & Browne brand. With an estimated price tag of $13 million, the village is slated to open by August 2009.
John Hawkins, an independent marketing and sales executive for Napa wineries, and Rick Ferrell, a Denver-based real estate developer, round out the project's founding team. San Francisco-based architect Todd Koster will design Les Garagistes; like Ferrell, this is his first wine-related project.
Hawkins says the group chose "garagistes"—a term used for innovative producers in Bordeaux who make tiny amounts of high-end wines in their garages or other humble settings—as a name for their village because that artisan quality is central to their mission and the tenants they seek. (Applicants are currently being vetted by the group and have not been announced at this time.)
Designed specifically for foot traffic, the village will comprise 60,000 square feet of buildings—wineries, a café, meeting space—and a vast courtyard. Each of the 12 winery spaces will house a tasting room, an office and winemaking tools (presses, crushing equipment, destemmers) and can be customized to the specifications of each tenant. For bottling and storage needs, tenants can use the Cartlidge & Browne facility, located across the street, said Hawkins.
Les Garagistes Napa will be constructed on a vacant 3.2-acre lot on Jim Oswalt Way, off Highway 29, in American Canyon, about halfway between St. Helena and San Francisco. The four buildings housing the wineries will be arranged around a central 16,000-square-foot courtyard overlooking Mount Tamalpais, and visitors will be able to purchase gourmet foodstuffs from the café for picnics on site. The western end of the property abuts a vineyard.
"We're fortunate to have found a site in an improved business park where there are a number of other wineries," said Ferrell. "There's very little land [left] in Napa or Sonoma zoned for industrial use."
Tenants will each pay around $2.50 a square foot per month, and winery spaces will range from 3,500 to 6,500 square feet. "We've leased out a couple of spaces in other existing wineries at that rate, so it seems economically viable," said Cartlidge.
Around 30 to 40 percent of the project capital will be generated through private investors, Ferrell said, with bank loans covering the rest.
Ferrell cites the Southbridge Complex in St. Helena and Napa's "many beautiful wineries" as sources of inspiration for the village's look and feel. Like the facade of Southbridge's Pizzeria Tra Vigne, the Garagistes buildings, which will most likely be made of concrete, will be "softened up with ivy and wisteria and other things."
The developers still need to obtain government land-use approvals and the building permit, but they hope to break ground in spring 2008, said Ferrell.
"For a long time I have thought American Canyon could become something of an artisanal community," Cartlidge said. "We're doing the winemaking part, but eventually there could be [people who make] olive oil, cheese, furniture, sculpture. It's a bit of a dream, but it could happen."
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