BLISS-fully Ignorant in Napa and Sonoma Wine Country
Shepard Bliss (what a great name!) is the latest in what is becoming a slew of people pushing back against the wine industry in Napa and Sonoma Counties. The anti-industry activists appear to be concerned the growth in the industry will cause massive harm not only to the counties and their environments, but also to the quality of life for residents.
What’s interesting about these anti-winery activists is the remarkably disingenuous way they are trying to make their case against wineries. Mr. Bliss is a perfect example.
In a recent editorial in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (“Sonoma County David v. Goliath Story“), Mr. Bliss uses the case of a dispute between an egg farmer and winery and road access to launch into a diatribe against the industry. It’s not entirely clear what Mr. Bliss and his brethren want, but what’s absolutely clear is that they believe a wine industry that includes anything other than tiny vineyards tended by winemakers producing tiny amounts of wine is a bad thing.
It’s part of a backlash against success. It’s part of a desire to see certain kind of economic development suspended.
Fine. We all need a hobby-horse and Mr. Bliss, a trained psychologist and farmer, appears to have his.
But what bothers me most about his rant is the way he rants. He purposefully distorts the truth in a way we can expect to be repeated both in Napa and Sonoma if the backlash against wine continues. Bliss writes:
“Most wineries here (Sonoma County) are owned by large corporate investors from Wall Street and outside the United State, increasingly from Asia.”
He’s wrong. In fact, he knows he’s wrong. Worse yet, Bliss knows he’s wrong yet he still writes it.
The vast majority of wineries in both Napa County and Sonoma county are owned by families. They may have more or less capital and assets, but they are families nonetheless. In addition, most vineyard holdings are small. Yes, there are a few corporate-owned wineries in these counties, but they represent the tiniest of percentages of all wineries bonded in Napa and Sonoma counties.
The idea is to paint the wine industry with the patina of evil corporations….and worse, foreign corporations.
I try to buy small. I try to give my money to small, local businesses. I tire of all the chains. But I’m not so stupid as to believe that all corporations are evil. But I fear I’m in the minority these days and this is what makes Mr. Bliss’ lie a problem for the industry. Someone at the various agencies and associations that represent the Sonoma and Napa wineries better start correcting the record. Someone better start demonstrating that the vast majority of wineries in this region are small and privately owned. Someone better start getting the word out that the big corporate wineries may make lots of wine, but they represent the tiniest percentage of wineries in these counties.
If they don’t do this, Mr. Bliss’ lie is going to turn into accepted wisdom. And one thing is for sure. Once something becomes accepted wisdom, it’s pretty hard to show it to be pure dung.
The philosophy seems to be last one in please close the door to the rest. Same mentality about airports. Airports were built way out in the boonies and over time people (knowing the airports were there) built around airports then they scream that airport noise is terrible–FLASH: you should not have moved there then. I do not know Bliss, sure he is a fine guy, but Nebraska grows corn. why? because that’s what grows best in a Nebraska farm community. Wine country didn’t just spring up overnight, its been there since before CA was a state. I assume Mr. Bliss is wanting to pay more taxes as he controls the family wineries and vineyards.
Just another example of “we want XYZ, but not in my backyard.”
Mr. Bliss does seem to mis-state the report he references (The Myth of the Family Winery from 2009) but then the report itself is a tad misleading. It cites statistics like the number of wineries in CA (not by county) at the time (2800) and the % of US wine that is from CA (61%), and then says that the big corporations own 80% of the domestic (i.e. US) market with “major wine production taking place in CA”, which is not the same thing as saying that big corporations own most CA wineries. And while many wineries/vinyards are good neighbors and responsible businesses, there are those that aren’t. It is reasonable to acknowledge that without necessarily condemning the industry as a whole. That being said, I think what he wants is a little more agricultural diversity in counties that used to be quite diverse. Taking Sonoma as an example, if you look at the county crop reports for the last 60 or so years you can see that the mix of crops has tipped quite heavily toward wine grapes. In 1950 the relative # of acres in 3 particular fruits was apples – 10,874, wine grapes – 15,894, and prunes – 18,338 (who knew we used to grow so many prunes?) By 2010 the numbers were apples – 2,616, wine grapes – 56,522, and prunes – 39. It’s all about the $$/ton, of course, and wine grapes certainly beat everything else, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more balance so that other agricultural crops could thrive as well.