Napa’s Leaders Need to Embrace the Obvious On Winery Tourism

A recent story details that in Napa Valley there appear to be more winery visits than are permitted. Lewis Perdue gave the details—to the extent they can be determined, in a post on September 12:

“In 2018, 3.85 million people visited Napa County. Each of them visited an average of 3.7 wineries according to survey research conducted by Destination Analysts on behalf of Visit Napa Valley. That makes for an estimated 14.25 million winery visits. However, Napa County Use Permit data indicates that the number of verifiable permitted visits tops out at 8,587,124 visits including special event permits — substantially below the estimated number of visits.”

The story here appears to be that Napa Valley wineries are violating their permits. Fine. Yes. That appears to be true, despite not knowing to what extent they are violating them. But I think a more interesting story is not being discussed: Just how severely has the County of Napa failed to provide wineries with enough permitted visits at their winery to accommodate the demand for visits?

There is only one scenario that would lead to Napa Valley’s economic fortunes taking a dive. That would be if the cost of wine and the cost of visiting wineries increased to such an extent that the vast majority of those wanting to visit can’t afford to visit. How do you bring about that scenario? Easy. So severely limit the number of county-permitted winery visits that the demand for visits thoroughly outstrips the availability of permitted visits, which in turn leads to higher and higher costs of tastings and wine. That’s happening right now.

One proper response would be to increased the number of permitted visits that each winery is allowed to host. The other proper response would be to permit Napa Valley grape farmers who do not have a production facility on their vineyards outside of city limits to host visitors. Currently, Napa County does not allow this. By the way, “Save The Family Farms Napa Valley” is working on this latter issue.

Pretty soon here, sometime down the road, Napa Valley is going to have to deal with a situation the Vally is really just an elitist winery playground where only the richest folks are able to host visitors and happily lose money.

If the County of Napa is looking at this issue of there being more visitors hosted than permits allow, I hope their response will be to correct their mistakes, up the number of winery visitor permits, as well as permit grape growers to host tastings and make sales.



2 Responses

  1. Richard - September 26, 2019

    I may be mistaken, but there are some wineries in Napa who have no limits on visitors and no permitting? or am I incorrect Tom? Those wineries may account for the discrepancies… Though I agree with your assessment that the Napa Board needs to act decisively (for once in their storied existence) and finally stop being sticks in the mud. Wine is Napa – though there are those who think they want to go back to the Stone Age (or even the 19th Century) when they have a false dream that Napa was something that it never was…

    If I’m wrong on the permitting, then… never mind…

  2. Rob McMillan - September 26, 2019

    Tom – I take the report with a small grain of sand. The survey makes a distinction between tasting rooms and wineries.

    I can only presume that means they are asking about a stand-alone tasting room or a winery that has a tasting room. Most tasting rooms, separate from wineries, are in city limits. Tasting rooms within the City don’t have county visitation permits.

    Then reviewing the data table, while it’s hard to actually do the math given the souce data, it looks like the median for visitation falls closer to 2 visits. The 10+ visit number is strange. How many visitors make more than 10 visits to wineries? While some do take a week and do that, my guess is we are talking about distributors, wholesalers and business people who are on sales calls and fall outside of a permit. If you presume 2 visits is the real number of visits for a tourist, actual visitation would be slightly less than permitted visitition.

    Leaving that all aside, your point is still valid, but from this angle: From other data I’ve seen, something around 70% of visitation in the Napa Valley goes to V. Sattui, Sterling, Mondavi, Grgich, the Castle, and Beringer. If there are really 3.85M visitors, then 2.7M of them are going to 6 places. And where does the County spend time on visitor permits? Deciding if a 5K case winery can have 20 people a week or 30 people a week. In the scheme of limiting visitation – if that’s a worthy goal, how much sense does it make to regulate 10 visitors a week when close to 3M of the visitors are already going to just six places? Is that going to have any impact at all?

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