To Napa’s Wine Critics: Shame On You!
Ever the observant reporter, Blake Gray has written at Wine Searcher about the move afoot among some in Napa Valley to punish the wine industry for its success; to attempt to roll back the current impact that visitors to Napa are having on the quality of life for locals.
Blake’s article deals primarily with recommendations of a special “growth” commission and whether any of its recommendations limiting winery growth ought to apply retroactively to wineries with existing privileges based on their permits. Of course wineries ought not be restricted in ways they currently are not based on new regulations and of course any new regulations on wineries in Napa Valley ought to only apply to new wineries. But really, this is not the primary issue.
The critics of the Napa Valley wine industry, who regularly refer to wineries as “event centers” and “wine factories” in order to attempt to disparage them, are simply frustrated that there is absolutely nothing they can do about the facts of modern wine industry economics. Nearly ever criticism made of the industry boils down to there being too many visitors to the Valley in their view and the supposed problems that arise from wineries not merely accommodating those visitors but attempting to attract these and more visitors to their wineries.
Traffic, they say, is a problem. Development and the accompanying degradation of the local environment is a problem, they say. They harp on the fact that some wineries see more visitors than their use permits allow. So what do they do? Not a single recommendation they are currently pushing in front of the county will diminish the number of visitors coming to Napa Valley. In fact, there is nothing that can be done to diminish the number of visitors traveling to Napa Valley, let alone curtail the growth in those visitors. So, they lash out with proposals that do nothing but punish the industry and make it more expensive for the industry to operate.
The bottom line is that in today’s economy, without visitation to wineries, the Napa Valley fails as a wine production region. Critics believe that if only Napa wineries made the wine then sold it through the old-fashioned three-tier system and didn’t work hard to sell direct from the winery, all would be well. In fact the vast majority of Napa Valley wineries would fail if they had limited access to visitors and were forced in some way to make wine and sell it to wholesalers.
Often local critics of Napa Valley’s wine industry point to the fact that the primary purpose of Napa’s codified agricultural zones is to produce wine and that marketing is not part of the primary purpose. It’s why there is a simmering argument over what the official definition of “agriculture” ought to be. What critics don’t seem to understand is that without direct to consumer sales of the products they produce here there is no agriculture.
In the end, it’s notable that the current crop of critics of the Napa Valley wine industry don’t propose anything that would impact the number of visitors to Napa Valley…the thing they hate most. The reason they don’t propose any such thing is because there is nothing that can be proposed that will impact visitors. Nothing. Zero. So, they look to change policy in ways that will simply punish wineries. It’s a despicable approach. You know who you are. Shame on you.