Napa County Supervisors Diane Dillon and Belia Ramos are taking one of the longer treks ever on county business – they have traveled 8,000 miles to Adelaide, South Australia.
They are attending the Great Wine Capitals general assembly from Nov. 3-9. That comes a year after they canceled their trips to the 2017 assembly in Chile because of the raging Atlas, Tubbs and Nuns wildfires in local hills.
The cost to county coffers for the South Australia trip is not to exceed $17,500, the Board of Supervisors voted on Sept. 11.
San Francisco/Napa Valley is one of 10 Great Wine Capitals. The various Capitals take turns hosting the annual assembly, with two Napa County supervisors traveling to Spain, Portugal and Argentina in recent years.
Delegates in Adelaide are doing Great Wine Capitals business in meeting rooms. They are also taking tours to learn what this wine country competitor has to offer. Adelaide clearly wants to impress.
“As the wine capital of Australia, Adelaide is excited to offer you as a delegate an amazing range of culinary tourism experiences, both within our vibrant city and throughout our 18 wine regions,” former South Australia Minister for Tourism Leon Bignell wrote in the event’s brochure.
He promised delegates a chance to “cuddle a koala and hand-feed a kangaroo, walk along our pristine beaches or dine at one of our award-winning restaurants.”
Supervisors have said on several occasions that, even if annual Great Wine Capitals trips have pleasurable aspects, taxpayers see benefits. The two supervisors participating later report to the entire Board of Supervisors what they’ve learned about international wine country rivals and what ideas might apply locally.
Last year, Ramos criticized a Napa Valley Register headline that referred to the annual trip as a “junket.”
Before leaving for Australia, Dillon said each Capital is recognized not only for premium wine, but for best farming practices and a focus on appropriate tourism. She wants to find out if other places are experiencing the same direct-to-consumer marketing trends as Napa County.
Person-to-person relationships are important, Dillon said. As an example, she said Great Wine Capitals contacts can help when a vineyard-threatening pest such as the European grapevine moth is found Napa County—something that happened in 2009.
“It’s why people go to conferences, to learn and engage with others,” Dillon said.
The annual Great Wine Capitals assembly is the most distant trip taken by supervisors in 2018 to represent Napa County, but not the only one. This year, various supervisors have attended such gatherings as the National Association of Counties (NACO) conference in Tennessee and a health care conference in Las Vegas.
For example, Ramos attended the Rail-Volution Transportation Conference from Oct. 19-23 in Pittsburgh. The county authorized spending $2,500, with other travel costs to be covered by the Association of Bay Area Governments.
“I think Rail-Volution certainly was a great experience, in terms of just not for transit infrastructure, but place-making and public spaces and trails along rivers,” Ramos told the Board of Supervisors upon returning.
She looks forward to sharing the knowledge she gained not only with ABAG, but the county, Ramos said.
Napa County allots about $24,000 annually in the Board of Supervisors budget for supervisors to attend training and conference events and for travel expenses. That doesn’t include the Great Wine Capitals trip, which comes out of the Agricultural Commissioner’s budget.
The Napa Valley Register looked through a sampling of receipts submitted by supervisors for their travel reimbursements during 2018, given supervisors can seek repayment for such things as meals. That sample contained nothing extravagant being charged to taxpayers.
For example, Dillon when going to the NACO conference in Tennessee charged the county $11 for a turkey-on-wheat sandwich at San Francisco International Airport. Fittingly enough, she bought it from the Napa Farms Market. She bought a Cesar salad and coffee at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center for $15.
At a Washington, D.C. NACO conference, Ramos charged the county $14.50 for sushi and bottled soda, $52.64 for an Uber ride from the airport to the hotel and $100 for parking at San Francisco International Airport.
County supervisors receive no mileage reimbursement for trips they make within the county, Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said. Rather, they receive $5,280 annually in a car allowance.
They can submit for reimbursement when driving outside of the county on county business. They are paid a mileage rate set by the Internal Revenue Service, which this year is 54.5 cents per mile.
Supervisor Ryan Gregory received $69 for driving to and from Sacramento International Airport to fly to a four-day conference in Las Vegas. He also spent $48 for parking at the airport.
Supervisors also travel to conferences for other agencies at no charge to Napa County.
For example, the Board authorized out-of-state travel for Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht from Aug. 12-14 to tour the Canadian Oil Sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Wagenknecht did so on behalf the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which paid the cost.
The air quality district sponsored the trip to evaluate potential environmental harm, a county report said. Use of Canadian tar sand oil at local refineries has proven controversial.