My Exit Interview From Napa Valley Wine Country
My family and I are leaving Napa Valley for a new home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in a few days. We leave behind too many friends to count. An environment so beautiful it’s sometimes hard to catch your breath. And we leave behind a local wine industry in which we have actively participated and truly love deep in our hearts. Our boy was born here. He’s only four and a half but when you ask him “what’s Napa” he responds, “wine”. “What’s Napa Valley wine, Henry?” Response: “yummy”. However, despite our departure from Napa, when Henry is older he’ll still say he grew up in wine country. Only it will be Oregon wine country.
As I’ve mentioned before. Napa is losing our family, our local support for businesses, our tax dollars and our participation in this community because the price of housing here is so great that it outweighs the benefits of living here. It’s that simple. Still we wanted to live in a real, legitimate “wine country” because we love that environment, we love the industry, and we love the kind of people who devote themselves to the cultivation, transformation and selling of the grape. Willamette Valley has all that. Moreover, it has a 3000+ square foot house on nearly a 1/3 of an acre, set in a very nice part of Salem all for the price of just under $500k.
Most of you here in Napa will stay and for that I salute you. Still other are going to follow us, many for the same reasons we are leaving, while others will find different reasons to leave, but not for the reasons I’ve previously suggest.
I would be both remiss and unappreciative of a perfect opportunity if I did not take this occasion of our moving away from Napa Valley to offer advice to the leaders, citizens and industry members of this Valley, all based on my experience with this place. So, here goes.
There is only one economy in the Napa Valley: Wine. Continue to support initiatives that seek to punish what are some of the most responsible farmers and producers anywhere in America and risk a justified exodus and with it the tax revenue that funds just about everything this County wants to do as well as the ancillary industries supported by the Valley’s wine industry.
Want some suggestions on how to empower this local economy? Happy to help:
1.Start allowing weddings at wineries. The depth of the absurdity that is the ban on weddings at wineries is so great that it can’t really be measured with traditional tools. Sure, put restrictions on the amounts and locations, but stop forcing people who will happily support local Napa Valley businesses to give their money to Sonoma business and the Sonoma economy.
2. Before you start capitulating to the demands of a very small minority of power-hungry, ego-centric, fact-less, emotion driven NIMBY’s who demand you significantly curtail the wine industry, keep in mind the demands and threats will never stop, no matter how much you give in. Grow a pair and demand these “activists” provide fact-based, scientifically proven examples of their extravagant claims about the negative impact of the wine industry they claim.
3. Update and make rational the Use permitting process for Napa wineries or face the consequences. Right now the use permitting process is so outdated, so irrational and so expensive that the County is actually incentivizing violations. This view is validated by the Napa Board of Supervisors’ December Code Compliance Resolution. This new process for bringing wineries into compliance with their use permit is reflective of how Napa government has completely capitulated to radical NIMBYs in your midst. The result of this resolution is going to cost wineries upwards of $50 million or more to come into compliance, but more importantly the cost of compliance will force numerous sales of wineries. You don’t like corporate winery ownership? You want local ownership? Too bad. You are going to get exactly the corporate ownership ou don’t want as you force wineries to sell or go bankrupt under the system you’ve put in place for permit holders to come into compliance with a use permit system that is so old, irrational, expensive and corrupt, only a complete overall can fix it.
3. Do something about the lack of housing in Napa and do it now. There are an abundance of very talented people who desperately want to live here, build careers here and set down roots here with family. But they can’t. They can’t find housing (even rental housing) they can afford. If you don’t fix this, fix the process by which new developments are approved and find a way to move the permit process through faster, all you are going to have is an aging population, no one to work in and shop in local business and a diminishing tax base.
4. Support and promote local educational institutions with ever dollar you can muster. Education is the silver bullet. You want a local economy that can support higher paying jobs? You need educated people. You want a participatory local electorate? You need educated people. You want a greater tax base? You need educated people. Every dollar you can muster.
5. Do something now to preserve the wine history of Napa Valley. This is the most important wine region outside Europe. Where is the Napa Valley Wine Museum? Where is the vault that holds hundreds of thousands of bottles of Napa’s wine history? Where is the County-funded wine historian? This suggestion is aimed at county government and industry leaders. How is it that there is no Napa Valley Wine Institute that provides a deep library documenting the history of wine in the Valley, housing hundreds of hours of interviews with those who have worked in the industry, providing thousands of square feet of meeting space, housing a Napa Valley Wine Hall of Fame, and serving as an attraction for visitors? Get on this before you lose more of your history.
That’s my two cents that I leave for you as I motor 560 miles north to another state and another wine community with my family and my belongings in tow. This place we leave is extraordinarily special. Everyone knows this. Don’t listen to the people who tell you Napa Valley has gone to hell in a handbag due to the wine industry. It hasn’t. And at the same time, address the issues that you must to help sustain the wine industry here and the thousands of good people and good families who work in that industry. And if you need some PR and Media Relations from somebody who knows Napa, its wineries and its wines, you know where to find me.