Myth Busting—Napa Wine Is All About Small, Not Corporate

Let’s get to the heart of the biggest lie told about Napa Valley and its wine industry: It is controlled and made up of a collection of corporate owned and multi-national conglomerates.

This is the big lie told by Napa haters and in particular by Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson, the authors of Measure C, which will be voted on June 5th and, if passed, end vineyard development on any land located on the hills of Napa Valley. Hackett and Wilson are either liars or ignorant. Either would explain the way the champions of this attempt to use the initiative process to harm the wine industry are pushing their cause.

We saw this claim about corporate control of the Napa Valley wine industry raise its head in a prominent way a couple of days ago when the Sonoma Index Tribune ran a story on James Conaway, an author and frequent writer on the Napa environment and industry. In the article, Conaway claims:

“The corporate take-over of family wineries is a trend that affects Sonoma at least as much as Napa. It’s a trend that also leads to a diminution of quality – a concept he uses frequently is “masstige,” taking a prestige wine to mass market….’The big threats to my mind are the multinationals. They show up from out of state, out of countries, and they have big plans. The community is not the first thing on their minds, unfortunately.’ ”

There are 475 physical wineries in Napa Valley, according to the Napa Vintners. According to the best accounting of “corporate” or “multinational” wineries in Napa, less than 40 of them fall into these broad categories. Or, put another way, more than 90% of Napa’s wineries are not owned by the corporate or multi-national interests that Mr. Conaway fears so greatly.

Of course, the use of the term “corporate” or “multinational” or “conglomerate” to describe a Napa winery isn’t an attempt to get at the truth, but merely a slur. And it is a slur that has been used constantly to support Measure C:

“Big developers and corporate wineries maintain outsized control over our water”
YES ON C.

A corporate laminate lies over the enterprises of wine and tourism”
James Conaway, Napa Register

“Selling wine directly to visitors is the new norm and the concentration of corporate interests who influence local trade groups and elected officials is growing.”
Mike Hacket & Randy Dunn, North Bay Business Journal

“But longtime residents such as Ginny Simms – an environmental advocate who served on the county’s board of supervisors in the 1970s – believe corporate greed is at the root. Napa today is a multibillion-dollar industry, where global beverage companies such as Treasury Wine Estates, Gallo and Constellation – which own brands such as Corona and Svedka vodka – have acquired smaller wineries for their portfolios.”
Ginny Simms, The Guardian

“For years, the growth of large, corporate wineries has shifted the balance of power in Napa County to favor outside interests. The ongoing consolidation of what was once a valley of small wineries has led to an increasingly aggressive wine hospitality culture focused more on short-term profits than environmental sustainability or quality of life for residents.”
Mike Hackett & Jim Wilson, San Francisco Chronicle

“Once signatures were gathered, the Board of Supervisors had a chance to adopt the measure outright. But did they choose to do so? No. Because the corporate wine industry enjoys an outsized influence over our elected officials.
Mike Hackett & Jim Wilson, The Napa Register

“Some farmers like me believe Measure C is wise because it protects our hillsides and watersheds from corporate over-development of vineyards, and thereby protects Napa County’s major source of both drinking and irrigation water.”
Lucio Perez, St. Helena Star

The folks that use these terms know they are not using a factual term. They known they are not getting at the truth. They are spouting rhetoric. This shouldn’t be a surprise. The entire premise behind Measure C is one driven by greed, envy, rhetoric and a shocking absence of any science to support their claims.

So here is the fact: Napa Valley wineries are overwhelmingly family owned and the overwhelming number of industry opponents of Measure C are family wineries. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is either ignorant or lying to you.

I’ve been making the case against Measure C for quite some time now. I do this because having worked with and lived among Napans for more than 25 years I have an affinity for this place. I care about its future. I’m a defender of Napa wines. I know the men and women who work in the Napa wine industry. And I know a great deal more about this industry than the Hackets and Wilsons who are pushing this abomination of an Initiative on this County.

Equally important in explaining my opposition to Measure C is enmity that arises in me when I see people straight up lie in order to advance an agenda. And that’s exactly what’s happening with the claim that it’s “corporate” greed or culture that is harming Napa and that’s what happening with the promotion of Measure C.

 


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