There Will Be No Uprising in Wine Country

"Everywhere you look in Napa County, you
see what was once a farming and working-class socio-economic
environment transformed into an upper-class enclave and tourist
attractions, with baronial wine estates, hillside celebrity mansions,
upscale shops and restaurants, luxurious inns, B&Bs, and hotels and
extravagant cultural centers — all designed for the benefit of the
“haves.” But beneath the genteel glitter, there exist harsh realities
for those on the lower end of the economic ladder. While the local
Hispanic population provides most of the labor for Napa’s wineries and
vineyards (and also do most of the other “hard work” in the county),
how many Hispanics own wineries or vineyards? And then there are the
hundreds of homeless in Napa who — despite claims of self-serving
public officials as to a plenitude of programs for them — receive
little or no help"

The above is  portion from a letter sent to the Napa Valley Register. Headline writers at the Register somewhat accurately identified the thrust of the letter this way: "Shameful for Napa To Ignore It’s Own Realities"

There is, I think, a nugget of truth in the letter writer’s words that will never be completely addressed, no matter how much the Napa wine industry actively tries to do for the community. This is a shame but it is also a fascinating comment on the nature of wine country and the issue of class that does underly the American culture but is rarely discussed by either the mainstream press or community leaders.

Let’s be clear about something, the vintners of Napa Valley do tremendous service for their community. the millions of dollars they’ve donated to health care alone is worthy of awestruck praise.

Yet it is true that the valley and town of Napa is more and more built on a foundation of upper class perspectives and upscale tourist dollars. It’s equally true that it is a national symbol of the "hoity toity" set. The town of Sonoma and Healdsburg are different only insofar as they aspire to become a part of the hoity-toity destination collective but just aren’t quite there yet (they will be, count on it). This reality in turn reflects on the simple act of wine drinking and those who call themselves wine lovers. Parts of the American public will always associate wine lovers with the upper class mind set or upper class wannabes.

We all know deep in our hearts, those of us who find themselves around active wine drinkers, that there is a bit of truth to this view of wine lovers. Tasting room workers know this better than most. But it is not the whole truth. Nor is it most of the truth. Like all luxury goods, wine attracts a set that can afford to indulge. It also attracts a set that works hard to indulge to the extent that it can. Ferreting out those who just really like wine from those who really like being seen to like wine is of no importance to wineries or communities that are supported by the wine industry.

I see no evidence of a substantial backlash against the grandeur that is so conspicuously on display in places like Napa Valley. Occasionally you see changes to zoning requirements that make life a bit more difficult for grape farmers, hoteliers and wine tasting rooms. But as long a the wine industry continues to make a concerted effort to give back to the community, they will not have to worry about any sort of uprising among the kind of folks that write the above letters and those that support the views of the letter writers.


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