It’s a wine country food fight.
Napa Vision 2050 and sectors of the wine industry have clashed over proposed, large wineries and tree-clearing hillside vineyard development. Now they are having a smaller disagreement over a pizza fundraiser.
Last Friday, Napa Vision 2050 announced that it would have a Jan. 22 pizza “dine-and-donate” day at Forge Pizza Napa and one subsequent day each month. Forge would pay to Vision 2050 a small amount of the proceeds for a meal when the diners showed a Vision 2050 coupon with their payment.
That’s a common fundraising method for organizations ranging from schools to clubs.
But soon after the event was announced, Forge canceled it. According to Vision 2050 President Dan Mufson, the pizzeria reacted to pressure from wine industry members. “Goliath gobbled our pizza money,” he reported in an email.
“You feel like a little kid on the playground – ‘Someone came and took my money away,’” Mufson said on Monday.
Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners saw things differently. The wine industry can’t make Forge cancel an event, he said.
“It’s so silly,” Stults said. “We have no control over who they dine-and-donate to.”
Michael Karp, a business partner with Forge, said the restaurant started getting calls over the event, perhaps six to eight. That’s when Forge—which opened last year in the South Napa Century Center—found out it had gotten involved in something polarizing, which it doesn’t want to do.
“There was no threat, there was no anything, just a lot of noise of people discussing it,” Karp said. “We didn’t know we were choosing a side and people were asking, ‘What side are you on?’ “
Call it a tempest in a teapot, a cataclysm in a café, a paroxysm in a pizzeria. Or perhaps just a sign of the times, given the recent skirmishes over wine country growth.
Napa Vision 2050 formed two years ago as a coalition of 14 local groups ranging from Save Rural Angwin to Protect Rural Napa to Napa Sierra Club. It has opposed certain proposed wineries that it says resemble events centers in agricultural areas and development it says could hurt watersheds.
The group’s Friday announcement of the pizza dine-and-donate event was widely circulated in an email blast. That brought a reaction from a wine industry that sometimes clashes with Vision 2050.
Stults said he started receiving emails on Friday from people, some in the wine industry, saying they like Forge pizza, but wouldn’t go there again because of the Vision 2050 event. That prompted Stults to call Forge in part to find out if it was really holding an event.
“I would have a hard time believing a local restaurant wants to dine-and-donate for Vision 2050 and alienate the Napa Valley wine industry who they rely on for a large part of their business,” Stults said.
Stults said he simply made a courtesy call, given that Forge is a new business and might not know about Vision 2050. He knows of one other person in the wine industry who also contacted Forge.
Karp said the restaurant found out Friday that it was in the middle of things.
“We’re new to the community,” Karp said. “We don’t want to take sides of any kind on strong issues with a polarizing point of view. Our job is to go in there and do great food and do great service and be there for the community and just be a fun and happy place.”
Vision 2050 Vice President Kathy Felch said she received a phone call on Saturday from the Forge corporate office canceling the event. She stressed that Vision 2050 doesn’t blame Forge and would still like to do dine-and-donate events there.
Although Mufson said the amount of money at stake is “paltry”- maybe a couple of hundred dollars – he called the wine industry “a bully.” He said the situation reminds him of West Virginia coal companies that don’t care about the locals.
“I guess we’re doing something right,” Mufson said. “If we weren’t, they wouldn’t care about our fundraisers, would they?”
Stults called Vision 2050 “a small, divisive group of people with the ambition of taking down the Napa Valley wine industry.”
Felch saw the incident as being about more than pizza.
“I think it really discloses how wide the fault lines are here, which is too bad,” Felch said.