Wine industry

Wine industry leaders urge more teamwork and innovation

No resting on today’s laurels, speakers say
2013-08-31T17:00:00Z 2013-09-03T16:46:26Z Wine industry leaders urge more teamwork and innovationJENNIFER HUFFMAN Napa Valley Register
August 31, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

The future of the Napa Valley wine industry revolves around collaboration, producing even better-quality wines, preserving agricultural land and enhancing the value of the Napa Valley brand.

So reported a panel of wine industry insiders at Thursday’s Impact Napa conference hosted by the North Bay Business Journal at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa in Napa.

The four panelists, led by moderator Richard Mendelson of Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty, each spoke at length about the challenges and opportunities facing the industry.

“The Napa Valley is the finest wine-growing region” in the country, said Bill Harlan of Harlan Estate. But that title, he added, must be preserved and nurtured. “We need to produce better and better wines and farm our land better in every block in this county. As we do that, every bottle of wine we produce enhances the value of the Napa Valley,” he said.

“Things have never been brighter for Napa Valley,” said Bruce Phillips of Phillips Family Farming LLC/Vine Hill Ranch in his opening comments. “Never before have we seen a situation where vineyard owners have been so well capitalized and access to credit so available.”

The challenge the wine industry faces is not new, Phillips said. “It’s been the challenge of this industry for 50 years — to maintain focus on our success. It’s critical that we maintain focus on the objective to establish Napa Valley as the pre-eminent wine-growing region in the world,” he said.

To do so, “We need to maintain an environment where growers can stay in business for a long time,” said appraiser Tony Correia of Correia-Xavier Inc. “To maintain family ownership of wineries in the valley will be one of the greatest challenges in the future.”

How wines are sold, both today and tomorrow, is another concern, said panelist Peter Mondavi Jr. of C. Mondavi & Family.

“The distribution system is an ongoing challenge,” said Mondavi. “Selling direct to consumer is significantly hampered throughout the U.S.” Further, consolidation among distributors “makes it difficult unless you are a very large winery” to get wines in the hands of drinkers, he said.

Direct-to-consumer sales and the current three-tier sales system can coexist, he said, but “there is no silver bullet” for distribution.

Harlan shared his thoughts about wine distribution. We need the three-tier system of producers selling to distributors and then to consumers, he said, “but Napa Valley also needs relationships with chefs and sommeliers and importers to spread the word about Napa Valley wines.”

Selling wines directly to consumers can’t be the only sales channel, he said. “If we only rely on selling our wines direct to consumer, we’ll hit a ceiling for how high we can raise the prices on our wine. And we need to be able to do that.”

Harlan said collaboration between Napa Valley tourism and agriculture is also critical.

“Wine and hospitality need to work synergistically and continue to evolve,” he said. “We need to get people to come here year-round instead of just high season. We need to work better at doing that.”

The Napa Valley, as a whole, should attract “people that have an appreciation for our heritage and can afford to buy our wines,” Harlan said.

Besides arriving as tourists, some visitors are also becoming property owners. “We have continued to see lifestyle buyers from all over the world,” Correia said.

Investors have been buying everything from vineyard estates to small vineyards with large homes. “That’s a good thing for the local economy,” Correia said. However, “are they going to be committed to maintaining Napa Valley as an agricultural community?” he asked about those newer Napa Valley landowners. Will they share the same passion for preserving our agriculture as longtime owners do, he asked.

Regardless of where landowners come from, “we need everyone in this valley to work together,” said Harlan.

“Napa Valley has the potential of being a national treasure,” he said. “We all need to act like this deserves to come true.”

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(4) Comments

  1. eyeremembertim
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    eyeremembertim - August 31, 2013 10:24 pm
    Nice commentary from hoi poloi here in the valley, but well taken. Integrity of what goes into a bottle with Napa on a label is paramount for our future economically. Production expansion applications by many wineries, in some cases newly purchased by large international albeit family interests, are missing in the discussion presented here by the Register. Partnership with hospitality is well received as the "face of Napa" is so vital to our image around the world. With this in mind I worry that our roads, infrastructure in general and long term plans to make our valley truly world class to visitors of all "stripes",receive continued commitment. Distribution is beyond my scope here as it is 180 degrees from 30 years ago when I began.
  2. TheNapaOG
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    TheNapaOG - September 01, 2013 12:54 pm
    Lots of great points were made by these industry leaders. But, it's upsetting that they don't mention a way to secure the immigration status of their labor and work force. The Mondavi family is a family who immigrated from Italy to USA. This "World Class" wine region is only possible because of the hard work of all of its immigrants. They are the people, whose back breaking work, make it possible for tourists and residents alike to enjoy the gifts of this great valley!

    Peace and love to all! God bless America!
  3. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - September 01, 2013 12:56 pm
    How about 'consistency' in wine quality? Unfortunately, when a Napa Valley winery delivers a bad but pricey bottle of wine, on some level it gives ALL of Napa Valley a bad name.

    On one hand you are all in competition with one another and on another you must maintain some semblance of wine consistency in order to uphold the Napa Valley image of wine quality. You all need to be on the same page when it comes to quality and you need to make it appear as though there's something about the growing conditions in this Valley that make these grapes better quality. Several marketing ideas come to mind, for example the volcanic growing conditions in the upper hills which stress grapes in such a way that flavor is unique. You can't get that in Lodi.
  4. napasonomatours
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    napasonomatours - September 01, 2013 5:38 pm
    So well stated, and to frequently overlooked or ignored. From the beauty found in the architecture and landscaping throughout the valley, to the world class vineyard management & wine production, most would not be possible or obtainable if not for the amazing effort and skill of the immigrant labor force that contribute so much to our community.
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