My Exit Interview From Napa Valley Wine Country

Think of this as my exit interview from Napa Valley.

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.

Posted In: Napa Valley, Personal

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21 Responses

  1. Judith Perry - January 18, 2019

    Please do not send people to Oregon. We are proud of our wine industry and do not have Napa’s Problems to that extent. We do not need them either. We have our problems and need to be proactive on solving them further. At this point we could use a tougher Governor and stop some of the issues with street people, mental
    Health facilities, education and cohesive political representation.

  2. kenju - January 18, 2019

    I have never been to Napa, but I have been to Sonoma. I am familiar with weddings in Sonoma (as a former wedding florist), but I did not know they were verboten in Napa. How silly and how backward thinking that is. I hope in the future weddings will be allowed in Napa wineries. It’s ridiculous to think they are not.

  3. Al Scheid - January 18, 2019

    Tom,

    Genuinely sorry to see you go – we’ll miss your commentaries. Now, you give advice – do you take any? Get rid of you “donotreply” address – it’s silly. I can’t recommend your site because there are hundreds of “do not reply” sites. Stand up, Man – put your name in the address – like “Wark wine commentary” or something like that. Make it easy to be found. I assume you want more readers? Stop being “donotreply”

    Good luck,

    Al Scheid

  4. Tom Wark - January 18, 2019

    Al,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    Also, click on the “Contact” link above. You’ll see that may be the most transparent wine blogger anywhere along with numerous points of real contact.

    Tom…

  5. Lewis Perdue - January 18, 2019

    ¡Vaya con Dios mi amigo!

  6. Tom Wark - January 18, 2019

    Thank you, Lew.

  7. Randy Hall - January 19, 2019

    Mr Tom!

    I’m sure I speak for Kaz and Christophe when I say that you will be missed, and that the giant sucking sound emanating from the Napa Valley will be heard all the way to Oregon.

    I’m expecting to see the same advocacy from you for direct shipment!

    Send postcards 🙂

    –R

  8. Sheldon Haynie - January 19, 2019

    The activists need to bear the costs of their activism.

  9. Bruce Susel - January 19, 2019

    Good luck Tom. But remember NAPA SELLS AUTO PARTS. Sonoma makes wine

  10. Gabriel Froymovich - January 21, 2019

    Tom,

    Sorry to see you go. One thing I would add to your commentary is that, when we weigh the arguments of the NIMBYites, we should always think in terms of what would occur in lieu of wine industry activity. For instance, when they argue that we shouldn’t have vineyards due to pesticide use, we should demand that they compare Pesticide Use Reports between vineyards and the, say, apple orchards that might replace them. Busy roads? What would create more traffic, the vineyard or the sub-development that might replace it, etc.

  11. Cathy Corison - January 21, 2019

    Happy trails.You will be missed.

  12. Bob Foster - January 21, 2019

    Following in Tim Hanni’s footsteps who left for similar reasons

  13. Tom Farella - January 21, 2019

    All the best to you and your family, Tom. Change your license plates immediately because there is a serious Oregon NIMBY thing going there, too. When you get hassled, ask if they were born-and-raised Oregon. I went through that in 1990, asked a large group after they teased me – not 1 born and raised. My dad was born and raised there, went to Oregon State so who has the “higher ground?” Silly BS. Funny, no one ever does that in Cali….

    Meanwhile, I understand your situation and wish you all the best.

  14. John Taylor - January 22, 2019

    Tom,

    I feel your pain although we left the Central Coast two years ago for wine in Minnesota of all places. We never considered Napa or Sonoma due to coat of living and even the Central Coast became cost prohibitive. Congratulations on doing what is best for your family. Embrace the seasons and the absolute joy the PNW has to offer. I’ll certainly continue to follow your blog from here.

    Cheers,
    John

  15. Christopher Missick - January 22, 2019

    I’m a fellow California expat that sought the beauty of a life in wine country, without the frustrations (and the cost of living) that come with living in California. New York State isn’t perfect, but life in the Finger Lakes is pretty great. I hope your slice of heaven in Salem is as nice as ours on Seneca Lake.

    Best,
    Chris

  16. Dianne Norton - January 22, 2019

    Bravo, Tom. Awesome points on all fronts. While I was going to say “farewell” and “you will be missed”, we have the great fortune of hearing you via a medium that is borderless. For this reason, it’s a wee bit easier to let you go, but I’ve known Kathy since I moved here and I will miss running into her and you and HG periodically around town. Congratulations on your new home and best wishes for a smooth and swift transition!

  17. Gerald D. Boyd - January 22, 2019

    Tom, Congratulations on your move. My wife and I left Sonoma County six months ago for Washington. Though we are not in “wine country,” we are near two of our sons; Sean Boyd is co-owner and winemaker for Sightglass Cellars. Good luck and keep fermenting your blog.

    Gerald D. Boyd

  18. Howard Hewitt - January 22, 2019

    Congrats Tom. Great advice to the Napa’s old-school movers and shakers. I love Oregon. I visit from the Midwest every other year. I always found the winemakers, winery owners most welcoming to wine writers and customers. It’s a special place with much less hassle. You’ll enjoy that area.

  19. Frances Mae - January 26, 2019

    Will the last person to leave California please turn out the lights?

  20. pete richmond - February 2, 2019

    thank you for leaving

  21. tom Wark - February 4, 2019

    Pete,

    You’re Petty.

    Tom…


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