Belia Ramos

Belia Ramos

J.L. Sousa, Register file photo

Two Napa County supervisors decided that helping with wildfire recovery trumps going on a previously scheduled, taxpayer-funded trip to Chile for an international wine conference.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Belia Ramos and Supervisor Diane Dillon were to be delegates at the Great Wine Capitals meeting from Nov. 5-9 in Valparaiso, Chile. What might be the biggest disaster in Napa County history changed their plans.

Both supervisors said they canceled their trips in the wake of the Atlas, Nuns and Tubbs wildfires that broke out on Oct. 8. Hundreds of homes burned in the Mayacamas Mountains and in the eastern mountains during the subsequent two weeks.

“My county needs me here,” Ramos said.

Dillon voiced similar sentiments. She said property owners lost structures and have questions about cleaning up debris and rebuilding.

“We need to respond to them as quickly as we can,” Dillon said.

Napa County for more than a decade has participated in Great Wine Capitals conferences. Recent practice calls for sending two county supervisors and the agricultural commissioner at county expense, with Napa Valley Vintners and Visit Napa Valley paying to send their own representatives.

The local contingent in recent years traveled to such places as Porto, Portugal and Mendoza, Argentina to represent the Napa Valley on the international wine scene.

The Board of Supervisors voted Sept. 12 to send Ramos and Dillon to Valparaiso, Chile for the latest conference at a maximum cost of $17,500. It authorized them to travel out-of-state from Oct. 28 to Nov. 13.

Only one wine grapegrowing area and gateway pairing from each nation can be a Great Wine Capitals member. San Francisco/Napa Valley is the United States’ representative.

Proponents of the annual trips say that Napa County’s wine industry has a $13-billion-a-year economic impact locally and competes globally. They see value to meeting with officials from the world’s other wine regions to discuss such issues as the relationship between tourism, agriculture and government.

“We think Great Wine Capitals is an important organization,” said Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners.

He too has dropped out of this year’s trip. Napa Valley Vintners is focused on helping its members recover and the community heal from the wildfire damage, he said.

But Visit Napa Valley will send a representative.

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“We do need to get the message out there that the whole valley has not been burnt out and we are open for business,” Stults said. “I think it’s appropriate that somebody from Visit Napa Valley goes and helps to spread that message.”

Clay Gregory is CEO of Visit Napa Valley. He made last year’s Great Wine Capitals trip, though this time another member of the organization will go, along with a representative from San Francisco Travel.

“The benefit is it connects us to other great wine regions around the world,” Gregory said. “Over the years, we’ve learned a whole bunch from each other.”

One benefit came a few years ago, when Napa County faced an outbreak of the invasive European grapevine moth, Gregory said. The county received information from Great Wine Capitals partners on how to successfully fight the grape-damaging pest.

The Great Wine Capitals experience has also helped bond the Napa Valley with San Francisco Travel, Gregory said. That’s important in bringing San Francisco tourists to Napa Valley.

Chile earlier this year faced its own historic wine country wildfire devastation. A January photo from National Geographic portrays a cloud of smoke towering over Valparaiso, a scene similar to that in Napa Valley during the height of the local fires.

Great Wine Capitals members are San Francisco/Napa Valley; Adelaide, South Australia; Bilbao/Rioja, Spain; Bordeaux, France; Mainz/Rheinhessen, Germany; Mendoza, Argentina; Porto, Portugal; Valparaiso/Casablanca Valley, Chile and Verona, Italy.

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Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He was worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield. He is a graduate of UC Sa