Saying Goodbye To Napa Valley

I’ve lived in Northern California for 55 years. I’ve lived in the North Coast Wine Country (Sonoma and Napa) for more than two decades. Nearly all of my very best friends are located here in Northern California. The heart of the Industry in which I’ve worked for 25 years is here in Northern California.

At the end of January, I’m packing up my family and leaving for Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

That we are leaving is largely an economic decision.

In 2016 Cathy Huyghe wrote in Forbes about the cost of living in Napa Valley. In her article, she listed the average cost of a home in Napa by city. This was before prices increased even further:

  • Napa: $655,466
  • Yountville: $837,250
  • St. Helena: $1,164,775
  • Calistoga: $642,000

These were average prices for a 3 bedroom home with modest amounts of property. Imagine if you wanted four bedrooms and not a modest amount of property but rather a tad more than modest.

While we could have afforded the payments on such a house here, the down payment is pretty severe. Still, we could have continued to rent. Sometimes renting is the right economic move. It’s not for us.

For the home we purchased in Salem, Oregon, I would have paid upwards of $2 million in Napa. We paid about a quarter of that. You see the attraction.

Yet there are trade-offs.

I’ve traveled fairly extensively across the United States. If there is a region that with a more perfect climate than Northern California, I’m not aware of this place.

If there is a region with better access to mountains, oceans and rolling valleys and hills than Northern California I’m not aware of it.

If there is a region with more intense dedication paid to the bounty of the land and the food and drinker produced from it, I’m not aware of it.

We are leaving a fairly spectacular place. If you live here now and it makes economic sense to stay or if you can move here, do it.

On the other hand, consider the Willamette Valley.

If there is currently a more dynamic and vibrant wine region in the United States, I’m not aware of it. With Kathy and I both being creatures of wine, it ought to be easy to understand why we are so excited to be relocating to this area of Oregon. By every measure, the Oregon wine industry is on the ascent. The world now has its eye on Oregon and its wines and they like what they see. And the industry in Oregon has responded to the attention it has continually gained with measured, thoughtful and smart moves, always with quality in mind. Moreover, the people of this industry who we know and have friendships with are what make the Willamette Valley so attractive to us.

The move to Willamette makes sense from a career perspective also. I’m a consultant. I work with wine clients in Napa, New York, Florida, Southern California and beyond. I can nearly live anywhere and still give my clients the service they deserve and pay for. Kathy is a hospitality and DTC professional with deep experience and dedication who I know will end up becoming a prime catch to a winery in Oregon. Moreover, both Kathy and I are inspired by the presence of a wine country surrounding us and made better professionals by continuing to be a part of a community of other wine professionals. All this recommends the Willamette Valley as a destination.

I will have a great deal more to say and report about Oregon, the Oregon wine industry and the Willamette Valley on this blog in the same way that I’ve reported extensively over the years about Napa, Sonoma, and California’s wine industry and wine places. Perhaps I’ll bring a pair of fresh eyes to the Willamette Valley. Undoubtedly this new focus on a new region will change my own perspectives on many issues. How could it not? The point is that there will be a slight change of perspective at FERMENTATION: The Daily Wine Blog.

Some people claim it’s not good to have regrets. I don’t know if that’s true. I do know however that if you don’t carry any regrets with you then you’ve not properly embraced living. Leaving Napa Valley and Northern California is regretful. It’s my home and has been all my life. It’s where the most important times of my life have played out. I love it here. My best friends and my loves are here. I’m going to miss being in close proximity to so many Napans, Sonomans and San Franciscans who, though I don’t see them face to face regularly, I am comforted by knowing they are nearby. If we could have made sense out of staying here, we would have because it’s home.

Our final days in Napa Valley will be spent planning, packing, closing up and saying goodbye. It’s going to be hectic. It’s going to be very bittersweet. Yet, as Kathy and Henry and I move through these final days, we will have our eye on a little plot of land in Salem, Oregon that holds remarkable potential for this family and that has proven too attractive to ignore.

Goodbye Napa. Hello Willamette.

 


49 Responses

  1. Mark - January 3, 2019

    Tom-
    Many congratulations to you and Kathy. We’ve spent a good deal of time in Oregon and I have dear friends in Salem and it is a beautiful place. We too are leaving California but it will be a couple of years as I intend to retire from teaching within the next couple of years. One of our first choices is Vancouver, WA and part of that calculus is its proximity to the Willamette Valley. I may actually end up retiring into working in a winery as I’ve longed do to after spending a secondary career on the periphery of wine as a writer and journalist. You’ll love it–and I’m happy for you both–but more happy for the region which will benefit from your keen and critical eye. Enjoy!

  2. Suzanne - January 3, 2019

    We will miss you Tom. Oregon is wonderful too and a great place to raise a family.
    James and I go up to ashland frequently and love it up there. I’m sure you will love Salem. If you get a chance, check out Cow Horn Winery in Jacksonville and their biodynamic wines.
    Suzanne

  3. Jim Bernau - January 3, 2019

    Tom, what great news for us as well! We are working together here to further strengthen our standards of AVA and variety content and protect them from misrepresentations. Your insight is appreciated. Currently, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission staff is proposing to revoke Copper Cane’s Certificate to ship wine into Oregon for multiple and intentional acts of deception and the Oregon Legislature beginning this month will take additional actions.

  4. Jeff Swanson - January 3, 2019

    We welcome you to the Willamette Valley Tom!

  5. Michael Kelly - January 3, 2019

    Tom, I hear you on the price points on real estate. When I retired, we stayed in the Bay Area for 3 years but with the congestion decided on a more idyllic life style in the Sierra Foothills. This allows reasonable trips to Napa, Sonoma and Livermore. it has also given me new opportunities in Lodi, Calaveras and Amador. Your move will provide a new direction and challenges— both will keep you young. Slainte, Michael

  6. Tom Wark - January 3, 2019

    Jim,

    I’m almost positive that the Oregon wine industry would survive without me. However, I am excited to be in the midst of a region so thoroughly dynamic and where the people have demonstrated such a commitment to their people and future.

    The CopperCane issue will not be the last time the Oregon legislature takes up issue critical to the industry. Oregon wine keeps growing and growing, becoming more and more visible and influential. That always translates into politics and policy.

    I’m looking forward to meeting you in person, Jim.

    Tom…

  7. Tom Wark - January 3, 2019

    Hi Michael,

    Yes, it was economics, but it was also a matter of location and the proximity to the kind of people and attitude and places Kathy and I like.

    Tom…

  8. Bill McIver - January 3, 2019

    Welcome Tom, Kathy & Henry to the Breathtakingly Beautiful Pacific Northwest! Looking forward to your first blog from your new home.

  9. Arthur O'Connor - January 3, 2019

    Napa’s loss, Willamette’s gain. I fear your experience is the tip of an iceberg that is not being discussed.

  10. Peter Ricci - January 3, 2019

    Best of Luck Tom! I have relocated several times in my life, each was a new positive experience with new friends in every location. Like you I made a financial in my last move because I can live anywhere, like you as a consultant. I choose the mountains of Western North Carolina not far from Asheville. The cost of living is nothing compared to Philadelphia. $400K gave me a beautiful new home with a million dollar view and taxes of $2k. Got to love it! More money for wine.

  11. WAYNE D OPPENHEIMER - January 3, 2019

    Welcome to Oregon and the BEAUTIFUL Willamette Valley! I lived in Napa from 1994-1999 and it was great! You should give me a ring when you are settled in your new digs. I have been in the wine industry for several years.

  12. She Whitaket - January 3, 2019

    Wishing you and your family much happiness in Oregon. You will be missed in the Napa Valley area but I am excited for you in your new adventure.

  13. Elizabeth Schneider - January 3, 2019

    Tom,

    Congratulations! Sometimes a move out of your comfort zone is just what you need. I’m a bit of a nomad myself — I’ve lived every where from St. John in the USVI to Florence, Italy, to the East Bay of California and up and down the East Coast from my native NY — and although it takes some getting used to, new places really teach you so much! You’ll get such a different perspective once you’re out of Napa and I bet it will be refreshing in some ways.

    Good for you guys for taking the plunge. The worst part of this move: Moving with kid(s) sucks. Purge everything you can. There are Targets there too : )

    Best of luck and let’s speak soon,
    Elizabeth

  14. Tom Wark - January 3, 2019

    Elizabeth,

    You can be my relocation guru! As for the purge…IT HAS BEGUN!!

  15. Monica Kirk - January 3, 2019

    My husband and I have moved 39 times in almost 44 years of marriage. We have lived in or near Napa three different times and love Northern California. We left there in 2015 and are now living east of Sacramento due to my husband’s job change. We will always love Napa and miss the great community of friends we made in our short time living there. Now that we are staring down retirement, we are being faced with the reality of not being able to remain in California due to cost of living. So, we are beginning our search for where we can live post retirement. Our children and grandchildren are all on the east coast. Crummy winter weather, but in many ways more affordable. I wish you and your family the best in your new adventure. The world of wine will bring many blessings and new friends your way.

  16. Gabriel Froymovich - January 3, 2019

    I still owe you a lunch! Maybe you can stop in Healdsburg on your way up?

  17. Jim Wallace - January 3, 2019

    Tom, That is a shocker… I grew up in Healdsburg, actually Windsor but it did not really exist when I was a kid, dad was stationed in Santa Rosa in WWII. I worked grapes all my life and left shortly after Jerry Mead passed. I think you’ve made a wise choice I visited the area a couple times when thinking move.. I moved to Arizona 25, thirty years ago. I had a nice house in Marin then, I have a nice RANCH in the land of AZ now, congratulations and good luck. Jim Wallace

    I miss my dear friends in the wine business and I miss the lovely state of CA. I do not miss the politics, I’m glad we moved.

  18. Lewis Perdue - January 3, 2019

    May the road rise to meet you;
    May the wind be always at your back,
    The sun shine warmly upon your shoulders, and
    The rain fall softly upon your fields.
    And, until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of her hand.

    Visit often, my friend!

  19. Sheila Nicholas - January 3, 2019

    We too moved from the Napa Valley to Oregon, albeit 19 years ago. It’s certainly an exciting place to make wine, and our community is exceptional. Welcome!

  20. Martin Redmond - January 3, 2019

    Good Luck Tom! You will be missed in these parts, but Oregon is a great destination for relocating!

  21. Alison rowe - January 3, 2019

    Good for you. Mat and I will probably be leaving California too let us know how it is there

  22. Bob Henry - January 4, 2019

    Willamette Valley? Yes, it’s all that.

    But do they have . . . surfing? (And surf weather/climate?)

    Score: Los Angeles – 1. Oregon – 0.

    Just sayin’ . . .

    All the best,

    ~~ Bob

  23. Tom Wark - January 4, 2019

    Bob,

    Surfing is over-rated. If only because if you do it really poorly the chance of death goes up exponentially. On the other hand, walking in the rain, even really poorly, is relatively safe.

  24. R Hagar - January 4, 2019

    Wait until you haven’t seen the sun for 3 months. Then……..?

  25. mlwhite@iastate.edu - January 4, 2019

    Willamette Valley = a plethora of wineries, vineyards, craft breweries, craft distilleries, very diverse agriculture & horticulture, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, parks and nice weather. Sounds like a GREAT move to me.

  26. Bob Silver - January 4, 2019

    Welcome to the great Pacific Northwest. You’re gonna love it!

  27. Jim Caudill - January 4, 2019

    As anyone who knows you would expect, this has been a carefully considered decision and is rock solid for you (and likely for many more of us). All the best, but as you say, you’re just changing your address, not your involvements, contributions and contacts.

  28. Bob Henry - January 4, 2019

    Well, we’e not talking big wave surfing at Mavericks.

    Or any cold water surfing where wearing a black wet suit makes you look like a seal — and a tempting snack for a Big White.

  29. Lee Topham - January 4, 2019

    We moved from St. Helena to Talent, Oregon in the Rogue Valley 13 years ago & never regretted the move. Much cheaper & more laid back, they yell at me if I don’t bring my dog in the bank…

    We are also moving to the Willamette Valley, to be closer to our son in Beaverton.

  30. Sarah Pearson - January 4, 2019

    Tom,

    I recently made the move from the Napa/Sonoma wine industry to Willamette Valley, Oregon. While I absolutely miss what I’m used to, I’m really appreciating the new perspective on the wine industry I’m gaining. It’d be great to connect once you’re up here.

    Sarah Pearson

  31. Tom Hall - January 4, 2019

    I lived in Portland for three years back in the 80’s. I think that the area around Salem is one of the MOST beautiful places that I have ever seen. Please don’t miss the wine scene in the Columbia Gorge and Washington, especially Walla Walla. Best of luck.

  32. Paul Gregutt - January 4, 2019

    Hooray! I won’t bother to list all the marvelous attributes (aside from housing costs) that distinguish the Willamette Valley and make it just as fine a place to live as Northern California. You will discover them for yourselves I’m certain. Better yet, you’ll be just a few hours from Walla Walla. Now that is truly the Promised Land! Best wishes and Happy New Year!

  33. Bradley - January 4, 2019

    Congrats on the move, Tom. You’re now strategically located in more or less the middle of the western North American wine growing region. A wise move!

  34. Melody Fuller - January 4, 2019

    Happy New Year, Tom!

    I lived in Salem and attended Willamette University.

    As you have covered, the Willamette Valley is amazing. It was not so wine loaded back in my freshman year.

    Enjoy!

  35. Don Lange - January 4, 2019

    Tom, I’ve read your posts for awhile now and I appreciate your work, as it is almost always thought-provoking and iconoclastic and, in the piece about your birth mother in Lake Oswego, extremely moving. Rest assured that the Lange family would be delighted to show you around this beautiful state once you get settled (we’re in the Dundee Hills). Regarding the winter rain–Californians can call it whatever they want; I call it trout water! All the best to you in wine and in life! Hope to see you soon. p.s. don’t listen to Gregutt.

  36. Michele Calbi - January 4, 2019

    Tom: Congratulations on your new location. I lived in Oregon for 25 years and watched the growth and maturity while tasting the beautiful and wonderful wines of Willamette Valley including being a shareholder of Willamette Valley Vineyard.

    After numerous business relocations, I chose the Sierra Foothills of California to start my vineyard and winery, because of the weather and opportunity for a small vineyard startup.

    Truly I miss Oregon for many reasons, and I’m confident you will enjoy your next adventure. At some point, please make it a destination visit to Placer County and the Wine Trail. I’m sure you will enjoy this amazing wine region and I would be pleased to host you and your family.

    Michele

  37. Jay Schuppert - January 5, 2019

    Congratulations and my wife and I get it. I was CEO of a Napa Valley winery for 15 years and lived in wine country for 25 years before retiring 2 years ago. 8 months ago we relocated along the coast of Baja only 45 minutes south of the border. 180 degree ocean views and beautiful home for a fraction of what you’d pay anywhere along the western USA. great weather and the Valle de Guadalupe is only 40 minutes away. There is life after Napa.

  38. James delaney - January 5, 2019

    Tom,
    Good luck on your new adventure. No mention of golf courses?

  39. Ann Topham - January 6, 2019

    Hey, Don Lange of Dundee Hills—
    Have a recommendation for a good realtor? Lee and I are looking for a place in Newberg or Dundee.
    —Ann

  40. Jeffrey M. Kralik - January 6, 2019

    Best of luck to both of you!

  41. Sarah Pearson - January 6, 2019

    @Ann Topham – I have a great local realtor who is located in Newburg that I highly recommend. Please reach out to sarah@dobbesfamilyestate.com if you’re interested.

    Sarah

  42. Carl Giavanti - January 7, 2019

    Tom, glad to see you finally pulled the trigger. Any regrets will quickly fade. I know this having moved from Southern Cal almost 15 years ago. Please give me a ring once you get settled.

  43. Tom Wark - January 7, 2019

    Carl,
    Yep…the trigger is pulled we are set to arrive in the NW just before the end of the month and I’ll be reaching out soon after we arrive.

    Tom..

  44. Mark Buckley - January 7, 2019

    Sad to see you go, but I know its hard to not venture north with the high cost of housing in the bay area. You will be missed, but aren’t so far away in the big scheme of things! Hope you get to enjoy continued success in your sphere of influence (it’s huge). Cheers! @spiritcodnwine

  45. tom Wark - January 7, 2019

    Mark,

    Thank you for your kind words. We will miss everyone and almost everything about the Valley. But, I’ll be back, in and out, for a number of reasons. So, you are right. Not so far away.

    Thanks,
    Tom…

  46. Ali - January 9, 2019

    Having grown up in Salem, I still have an abiding love for Oregon and the Willamette Valley. I have discovered that wherever I live there will be things about the ‘other place’ that I miss, and I’m sure that will be true of Napa for you. The relatively easy drive to the coast and the mountains is a nice part of life in the Willamette Valley, though…Central Oregon is lovely…Ashland plays are great. If you’ve never been to Crater Lake, that is a ‘must see’! I hope you and Ronni get some happy times together, with your family closer. If a spell of grey days get you down, there is always Hawaii…. Living now in the Seattle area, I do find that I enjoy a week in Hawaii in January, if I can get it. Spring, summer and fall in the PNW can be lovely, though!

  47. jani - June 2, 2019

    I just stumbled on your blog while searching for why folks choose to live in Napa/Sonoma only to find that you are leaving. I am sure it is a great choice for you. But what advice do you have for someone wanting to leave the lower cost of living in Texas to moving to Napa/Sonoma for better weather and wanting to break into the wine industry as a retiree? I have multiple wine certifications and am very physically fit. Best of luck to y’all.

    • Tom Wark - June 2, 2019

      Jani,
      Housing will be your biggest cost living in the Napa/Sonoma region. You’ll want to study the housing market (rental/ownership) before moving. There are great benefits to living in this region—primarily lifestyle including food, drink and related events. The people in the Napa/Sonoma region are fantastic. But, it’s very expensive. Other aspects of living in the region will also be more expensive than texas including energy. Finally, There are areas of Sonoma/Napa where traffic is terrible.

  48. Bob Henry - June 2, 2019

    Jani:

    See this March 28, 2019 published letter from the Napa Valley Register:

    “Age discrimination in the wine industry?”

    URL: https://napavalleyregister.com/opinion/letters/age-discrimination-in-the-wine-industry/article_418d2c1b-fa9a-570f-97fb-e2e91a158e81.html

    I am a healthy, well- groomed and well-mannered man. I can stand for eight hours, lift 50 pounds, I am proficient in Word, Excel, and POS Systems and I will buff glasses. I can work weekends, I have an excellent knowledge of the history of wine around the world, California and especially Napa.

    I am well-versed in enology and viticulture, and have planted my own backyard vineyard. I ran a wine shop for 20 years, ran a tasting room for five years and trained wine educators. I have a proven record of sales and wine club signups. I can do tours, entertain small or large groups, converse with wine newbies and wine professionals. I have wine certifications.

    Who wouldn’t want to hire me to work in their tasting room? Well, it seems that nobody wants to hire me.

    I started looking for a wine educator position in the beginning of November last year; to date I have sent out 71 resumes, 55 since Jan. 1 of this year.

    A wine educator goes by several different titles: Tasting Room Associate, Sales and Hospitality, but basically, it’s the person behind the counter who pours wine, tells the history of the winery, educates people about the history of Napa and wine, and hopefully gets the customer to join the wine club or purchase wine.

    I am more than qualified to be a wine educator. So far, I have had eight interviews and no offers. I have applied to small and large wineries and have started to apply for part-time work, even though I really want a full-time job. I have applied to some wineries twice, but what really frustrates me is after applying for a position, and getting no response, seeing the exact same position being posted again four or five weeks later.

    What that means is that after receiving the first bunch of resumes, they could not find a candidate that met their requirements. Excuse me, but I did meet all their requirements.

    Obviously, no one has to hire anybody that they don’t want to, but people who know me are flabbergasted that I’ve been trying for so long. From a frustrated 62-year-old Napan.

    (signed)

    Jeff Yates

    Napa

    [Same? “Jeff Yates – Proprietor – St. Helena Wine Merchants | LinkedIn”

    URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeff-yates-5a96b713 ]


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