Nancy Pelosi, Right Wingers and a Bad Understanding of Napa


With the prospect prior to the last election and confirmation afterward that Representative Nancy Pelosi would be come Speaker of the House of Representatives, lots of attention is now being paid to the congresswoman from San Francisco. It turns out that much of that attention has been turned to the fact that Speaker Pelosi and her husband Paul own a vineyard in Napa.

But not just that she owns a vineyard. The folks writing on Right Wing blogs, for Right Wing Internet publications and those who comment on Right Wing blogs are fascinated by the report that Pelosi’s small vineyard holdings apparently employ non-union labor. The Speaker’s long defense of labor has spawned many to call her out on charges of "Hypocrisy". These charges can be found Here, Here, Here and Here.

I’m not so concerned about this. If you can find a politician anywhere who can’t be charged in some small way with hypocrisy then you’ve probably found a dead politician.

What interests me about these writings is the way the writers and commentors tackle the wine industry in general. Specifically, I find THIS story that delves in deep to the finances of vineyards to come up with the conclusions that, among other things, Napa Grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer wants his Napa grapes to go into $10 and under wines, that Pelosi treats workers so bad they all quit and that it’s possible Pelosi is laundering money through her vineyard.

Interestingly, the writer’s source for this and other nonsense is identified only as "Our knowledgeable Napa Valley source."

I have to quote from this story…just because it’s so damn funny:

The congresswoman’s total planted grape acreage equals 9 acres x
$13,500 income per acre of highest quality grapes = $121,500 total
gross grape income for the two properties.

"More curiously however, our California wine country source revealed
that “the AVERAGE cabernet price, however, is only $1,850 per ton x 4.5
acres x 9 acres = $75,000 total gross income for the Pelosi grapes from
average quality fruit. So as you can see, the congresswoman may have
some explaining to do about who buys their grapes and why they may be
getting such an extraordinary price for them.”

"We were also told that “her vineyards are ’postage stamp’ sized and
basically ‘irrelevant’ to the industry — small, nuisance-sized parcels
that at best are difficult to contract with any winery, and are in
areas not known to produce quality fruit within the Oakville district.
It is marginal land, which is why it was not planted historically.”

"The Napa source told us that “the biggest grape grower on Skellenger
Lane [where one of the Pelosi vineyards is located] is Andy Beckstoffer
— and he likes to price his grapes to sell in a $10 per bottle of
wine, for goodness sake. This is hardly an indication of extraordinary
grape quality!” [suggesting that Pelosi’s Skellenger fruit is average
at best.]

actual approximate “wine-grape income” is between $75,000 for average
fruit and $121,500 for top-line fruit, given their reported planted
acreage, and provided their fruit is of average quality — if less than
average quality, then income is even lower, suggesting that there is
need of an explanation unless they show significant rental income from
the vineyard properties. If Pelosi’s tax return shows more that
$200,002 income for the two vineyards, then there may be a significant

You’ve got someone speculating on why in the world Pelosi could sell her grapes, farmed in the MIDDLE OF NAPA VALLEY, for more than $1,850 per ton, then concluding that there "may be a significant problem" with what Pelosi has reported as income. Anyone want to offer me some Oakville appellation Cabernet for $1,850 per ton? PLEASE!!!

Pelosi and her husband Paul recently sold their acreage on Skellenger Lane in Napa, but still own property on Zinfandel Lane in the middle of Napa. The property is described has having vineyards and residences. In reading the conspiracy theorists who tend to comment on the Right Wing writers’ stories there is some speculation on where the vineyard is actually located, who buys the grapes and even what the name of the winery is. Though the Pelosis have apparently gotten a permit to build a 5000 gallon winery  the property on Zinfnadel Lane, it do not believe it is completed, up and running or even under construction.

There is no specific information on th Internet as to which piece of property on Zinfandel Lane is actually owned by the Pelosi’s. However, I think I determined which it was by using the handy dandy Google search tool, Google satellite imagery and little common sense. I suppose I could have done the research down at the planning department in Napa, but that’s not nearly as fun.

First, it appears that Liparita Winery in Napa has purchase the fruit from Pelosi’s vineyard. Also, it appears that Jack Neal and Sons does the farming. The vineyard, if I am correct about its location, is in close proximity to vineyards owned by Heitz, Frogs Leap and Quintessa. This is hardly bad grape ground.

I suspect that over the next two years we will continue to hear a great deal about the "vineyard baroness" slash Speaker of the House. I suspect the issue of union labor will continue to arise. That’s fine. That’s politics. However, it would be nice if those doing their best to do some smearing of Pelosi would get their facts straight about the wine industry and grape growing.


12 Responses

  1. eartheist - November 15, 2006

    Perhaps Tom Flocco and those of his ilk spew their keyboard dyspepsia because they’re drinking the muck they rake. Unsubstantiated drivel such as his is, apparently, tailored to those who cannot drink for themselves.

  2. Mary Baker - November 16, 2006

    Wow. Nancy Pelosi is no favorite of mine but as a former reporter and vineyard owner, that is one of the most fantastical pieces of drivel I have read in a long time. He’d be better off writing satire.

  3. Greg Willis - November 18, 2006

    Having lived and worked in Napa Valley and Sonoma County vineyards for 10 years, I know this particular area like the back of my hand. I lived just down the street. This guy hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about. Oakville cab can go as high as $3,600/ton, or more on the spot market. This he could have easily checked.
    Andy Beckstoffer owns and farms over 3,000 acres, some producing $10 bottle grapes, most ultra premium grapes. They’re all fighting 2 Buck Chuck wines.
    My only question is this: I thought Libs loved organic wine. Jack Neal doesn’t normally farm organically. Are Pelosi’s vineyards certified organic?
    I might add that all the game fish (steelhead and salmon) disappeared from the Napa River in 1997. Local fishermen now report catching trash fish with cancerous sores and birth defects. The cause is most likely pollution runoff from poisons and chemicals used extensively in Napa Valley vineyards.
    The California Department of Pesticide Regulation lists Napa County in the top 20 pesticide/acre users-polluters of the 53 counties in the state. I’ve personally seen water pumped out of underground collection tanks in the Spring that was actually blue, not clear. All this water flows directly to the Napa River.
    A biologist I met estimated that 80% or more of the birds, bats, bees, butterflies and other insects and many wildlife species are now gone from the valley, due to pollution. Like the canary in the mine, these statistics are indicators of something deadly beyond loss of habitat.
    An informal, unpubished survey of 135 male and female vineyard workers (all Mexican) conducted in 2001 turned up abnormally high rates of birth defects and asthma in children and chemical poisonings of vineyard workers in the valley. The study was undertaken secretly at the urging of a physician at the local hospital who noticed an abnormal number of children of vineyard workers with serious illnesses that the children of nonworkers did not present. Having studied biology, epidemiology, health care management and viticulture, I informally consulted on the study, reviewiing the alarming findings. No one would publish it or follow up on it. The doctor said he was too scared to be involved for fear he would lose his job at Kaiser. I personally gave it to the Napa County Board of Supervisors, who refused to investigate this public health matter.
    Is it any wonder that Sonoma County, which is more eco-friendly, now gets more gold medals for their wine than Napa Valley vintners do?
    There is a strong organic viticulture movement now in the valley, but much more must be done to bring Napa Valley wine, its quality directly effected by poison based vineyard management and vehicular pollution, back to the gold medal status of its hayday.

  4. John Lopresti - November 25, 2006

    Oakville AVA, Heitz Cellars cab, $1,800./T, migrant farm labor, unionizing Napa vineyards, San Francisco labor organizations, 5,000 gallons 2-Kcase winery, wingnut blogging you were right to quote in the excerpt, Tom. Last time I read the back label on a Heitz cab the shelf price was about $40., probably because the reserve is rarely in the supermarkets. In the flats 9 ac will produce more than hillside 2T/ac. The economics data from the wingBlog seems within ordinary range of Napa valley floor grape ranching; and, it sounds like a startup still seeking its goals to optimize terroir and perhaps even prepared to outsource grape supply. One bloc is a good beginning. The nonUnion criticism would be difficult to tell to most growers; it is more like a loyalty for performance relationship than a union matter, though vineyard management outfits would be closer to the UFW phase of organizing than modest size acreage owners.
    Having spent a few years in research in epidemiology and toxicology, I was interested in the microsample survey reported by a visitor above GW, who should work with CA-DHS on replication; it could be an interesting effort for GW. With the recent outcome in elections, I imagine CRLA hoping to have a more functional environment, as one of its initial concept implementers was elected CA-AG, a post which could buffer CRLA from pre-election efforts by a senior elected official’s wing to add more rocks to CRLA’s row to hoe. I, too, would like to see some effort by the Pelosis to augment a Valley dialog about ways to increase sustainable ag in the winegrape industry within the AVA; the outcome could improve avenues other regions could ply modeled on what Napa does. One of the key qualities of Napa is the valley’s large size, so what one grower does affects the neighbors in the flatlands; Sonoma county has narrower valleys and more isolation between subregions, so greenbelts and nongrape wildlands provide natural predator balance to control grape pests. As for the upgrade of water quality in the Napa R., the project is slow; some anglers quit fishing main bodies of water in the county many decades ago. One of the great challenges in CA these next four years will be in water quality regulation; this is a noisy part of politics though. I think having Pelosi in the new leadership slot will help lead CA along the path to better stewardship; the State WQCB has helped safeguard our waters and watersheds admirably these past three years already. What is 5,000 gallons– 20 little aging tanks, 5 little fermenters; those could tuck under the satellite photographed tree canopies in TW’s article and a thrifty cluster of diminutive outbuildings. I know a good winemaker but he is already working two jobs trying to build his own cab winery in Napa.
    Reading the Sonoma County Ag Commissioner’s crop report from 2005 $1,800./T was the price for 440 acres of carignane. The 11,000 acres of cab sauv averaged $2,400./T; even zin was $2,300./T average over 17,000 ac. Napa averages typically are more pricey; and “insignificant” ‘postagestamp’ parcels can bring much higher prices. I suggest the Pelosis keep a good overTheFence relationship with Heitz. There is a winemaker I know in the region who balked when wines from their winery began to near quality which would make it easy to ask over $50./bottle; maybe the Pelosi’s could help that movement, to keep ranch denominated wines within sensible price range. Guests who bring $30./bottle wine when they visit are becoming more commonplace in these days. Without sacrificing quality, you know.

    FYI crop report 2005 6MB pdf

  5. scarshapedstar - November 29, 2006

    Not only is the wine angle bullshit, but the union angle is, too. Turns out California law prohibits her from hiring union workers until, well, her workers vote to unionize.
    Not that they’d want to, since she pays more than the local union vineyards.

  6. Caligula - August 22, 2008

    “I’m not so concerned about this. If you can find a politician anywhere who can’t be charged in some small way with hypocrisy then you’ve probably found a dead politician.”
    are you really making the argument that its okay that pelosi is a hypocrite because everyone else is? so that makes it okay? how about we vote out hypocrites and at least try to elect sound leaders?
    when someone is corrupt they seem to think everyone else is corrupt too. if someone does drugs they think everyone else does drugs, or has at least tried it etc…
    but please, if you are going to assert that all politicians are hypocrites i’d like some proof and not a general comment

  7. Janet Peritore - September 17, 2009

    Who does Nancy Pelosi sell her grapes to?

  8. bla bla bla - November 12, 2009

    if pelosi grapes are as crappy as her politics then the wine must really be terrible.

  9. [email protected] - December 29, 2009

    as long as Pelosi is around I/ll neveer buy another wine from Napa or sonoma!! All you lemmings fall of the cliff of freedom!!

  10. me - April 9, 2010

    who cares. pelosi’s a female dog. she can sell all the grapes she wants after she gets fired in november 2010. if the people in her district want to keep her fine, but she’ll no longer have her majority. good bye heir pelosi. it has not been real.

  11. ksmith123 - September 30, 2010

    I just wanted to know the brand of wine
    she sells so I don’t buy it. She is
    the last person I would support. I
    mean this sincerely, She is missing a
    few cards. She needs mental help.
    Just look in her eyes. She is not
    all there. California please vote
    her out.

  12. me - June 16, 2011

    Quite a swanky place. If one uses Google Maps today, one can see a very nice horse stable and arena, an amazing house with a huge pool and large hot tub (could see down Pelosi’s top with Google Maps–blehhh), and a secluded tennis court area. It’s right next to the river, so if they are not practicing careful organic production, quite likely Pelosi is spewing pollution right into that river. The overhead shot (older) does not show a security fence, but now the Street View shows an expensive stone fence and automatic security fence. Could be the place.

Leave a Reply