Shame on you. The lack of balance in the weeks-long harangue against our Napa Valley wine industry is disturbing and unproductive. The general public, administrators, politicians and even the press have failed the key elements in civil discourse – balance and respect. Read the paper, listen to the naysayers and it’s all gloom and doom. Worse, most of the spokespersons have no idea of the facts.

Not once has there been an enlightening and broadening voice telling of the 1970s Napa Valley wine industry renaissance. A couple of hundred of us innovated as we went to build this business. There was no guarantee of success. The 1968 Sunset Magazine Wine Country book listed only 18 wineries in Napa Valley. We stuck together to realize our dream.

Even big smart money (like Pillsbury and Coca-Cola of N.Y.) quickly left town when they saw the reality of Dick Maher’s famous saying, “To make a little money in the wine business, start with a lot.”

Look at just a few of the leaders who helped us do something that had never been done before in all of history – create a New World wine district that competed favorably with the famous regions of Europe: Robert Mondavi and his sons, Andy Beckstoffer, Bob Ellsworth, Dick Maher, Jack and Dolores Cakebread, Bob Pecota, Guy Kay, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, Bob Steinhauer, Joseph Phelps, Jim Barrett, Warren Winiarski – and many more.

It is critical that we understand the competitive nature of the super-premium wine trades and our place in the pecking order. We need broad discourse on how to build our only core business; how to protect our franchise -- not how to trash it. A couple of sobering facts:

-- Napa Valley only produces about 4 percent of the grapes/wines grown in California. No margin for error or missteps.

-- Absent baby boomer consumption, our key item, cabernet sauvignon, is quickly losing sales and position against pinot noirs and other more drinkable reds. The boomers are now 69 years old – and going fast. We should be talking about that alarming situation instead of blaming traffic on the wine trade. Wait too long and you won’t have to worry about visitor traffic -- they’ll all be going to Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley and Dundee Hills.

-- Do something with the Napa County APAC report? Sure; first – let’s lower the boom on all the wineries that are violating our rules and regulations and the wording of their winery permits. Give them some reasonable time to get clean, then hound them for compliance. Anything else is unfair to the other wineries and the industry.

-- Then drill into the report to find a positive pathway to aiding winery growth and prosperity. Then, sigh, another committee of positive voices to lead us forward. Most of those icons mentioned above are still here; start the next committee with them.

Bill Ryan

St. Helena


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