California lawmakers joined forces in Napa on Wednesday, hoping to glean experts’ views on two of the most pressing issues facing the state’s wine industry: sustainability and farmworker housing.
The joint hearing, held at Napa Valley College, brought together the leaders of both the Assembly Select Committee on Wine, chaired by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, and the Senate Select Committee on California’s Wine Industry, co-chaired by state Senators Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg.
“It’s my hope today that we’re able to take away best practices and promote those practices across the wine industry and other agricultural sectors,” Dodd said to open the hearing.
In his opening remarks, McGuire addressed sustainability, noting, “This industry has been a true leader in the ag community and the proactive approach that you have all taken has made a massive difference … in farming practices not just in viticulture but throughout all industries.”
“The number one topic” for the farming community in her district, Assemblywoman Aguiar-Curry said, is: “‘We don’t have farmworkers and we don’t have housing for them.’”
Two members of the Assembly committee, Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, and Assemblywoman Blanca E. Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, were also present as the committees heard from nine industry-spanning experts divided into two panels, each tackling a topic.
Highlighting the strides growers across the state have made in sustainability, the first panel offered up examples of programs like Fish-friendly Farming, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance’s sustainable wine grapegrowing program and the Napa Valley Vintners’ Napa Green program.
Panel member Keith Horn, vice president of vineyard operations at Constellation Brands, relayed what he said was the company’s goal of securing longevity in the industry.
“And how are we going to do that?” he asked. “Well, we do that by protecting the environment.”
Citing Constellation’s long-standing involvement in the Winegrowing Alliance’s sustainable program, Horn noted that 13,000 of the 14,000 vineyard acres the company owns in California are certified through the program, as are all of its wineries.
Michelle Novi, industry relations manager for the Napa Valley Vintners, held up the group’s Napa Green program, an environmental certification program for Napa Valley vineyards and wineries.
Novi noted the group’s goal of complete member participation in the program by 2020. Earlier this year, NVV announced half of its members had earned Napa Green certification. As of Wednesday, that participation rate was at 52 percent, Novi said.
Participating Napa landowners are minimizing erosion into the Napa River, while vintners have lowered their greenhouse gas emissions and now have the ability to reduce groundwater use and lower the number of vehicle miles traveled on county roads by changing employee behavior, Novi said.
Grant funding has been critical to the establishment and growth of sustainability programs like Napa Green, she added. NVV members may enroll and become certified in the Napa Green program “at a very low cost, if any cost, because of grant funding.”
Assemblywoman Rubio took the opportunity to highlight the importance of having Southern California legislators like herself participating on the committee and involved in funding discussions related to the industry.
“Unless you have those conversations about the funding to Southern California folks, when it comes to a vote or it comes to my desk, I’m going to say, ‘What do I care?’ and I’m not going to support that funding because I don’t understand the importance for us in Southern California.”
Rubio, who is one of four Southern California assemblymembers on the 11-member Assembly committee, urged those present “to have more of the Southern California folks participate in this because, you know I joke about it, but it really is not a joke that we don’t understand the issues.”
Another select committee hearing on wine will take place in Santa Barbara later this year, Dodd said, “…because we want to make sure that everybody knows that we represent the whole state and we want to hear from everybody.”
A five-expert panel discussed Napa’s farmworker housing program at length, as Steve Moulds, president of the Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation, and Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza praised fellow panel member Angel Calderon for his work managing one of the county’s three farmworker housing centers.
In touting the county’s “innovative” system of funding the three existing centers through a mix of state money, overnight fees from resident farmworkers and grape growers’ self-assessments on vineyard acreage, Pedroza noted the recent passage of Senate Bill 240, co-authored by Dodd and Aguiar-Curry, which raised the cap on growers’ self-assessments and allows for the flow of more local funds to the centers.
Moulds, who also sits on the county housing commission, said, “This public-private partnership, the growers and the farmworkers doing the majority of the funding, is a model that we feel can be shared with the rest of the state, if not the country.”
But as the workforce has become ever more diverse, with women increasingly joining male farmworkers in the vineyards, so too has the urgency grown for housing other than the three current centers, which cater only to single men.
“We certainly need another farmworker center,” Moulds said. “But as has been said, we need to reflect on the diversity of our workforce and accommodate them.”
Pedroza said that the possibility of positioning a family-based center in the southern Carneros region had been discussed.
Aguiar-Curry put forward the idea of family-based farmworker housing located on the Napa Valley College campus, a concept she attributed to a member of the NVC Board who she said had approached her. “There are places in our communities that do have space,” she said.
During public comment, Belia Ramos, chairwoman of the county Board of Supervisors, furthered the idea that state-owned land in Napa County might be used for housing.
“The state of California is one of the largest land owners here in Napa County and land acquisition is actually one of the largest impediments to any type of affordable project,” Ramos said.
“We’d be more than willing to talk a contribution of land to further our mutual goals of ensuring that we have farmworker housing and other affordable sources of housing,” she said.