Napa County Supervisors Diane Dillon and Belia Ramos recently traveled to South Australia to encounter international wine world competition that has some different takes on wine country tourism.
Napa Valley-San Francisco is one of 10 Great Wine Capitals members. Each year, two supervisors fly to the country of whatever member is holding the annual general assembly conference at a combined cost to taxpayers not to exceed $17,500.
The Great Wine Capitals organization encourages international winery tourism and exchanges economic, academic and cultural ideas. It’s important that Napa County be a member because of the global nature of the local wine business, a county report said.
Dillon and Ramos traveled to Adelaide, South Australia for the 2018 assembly from Nov. 3-9. At the Dec. 18 Board of Supervisors meeting, they gave their after-trip report.
Photos shown at the meeting made it clear Ramos and Dillon were on the move. The conference used the city of Adelaide and its 1.3 million residents as home base and took participants to see various wine regions, sometimes by small plane.
In Napa County, wineries are supposed to be primarily agricultural production facilities and debate rages over whether they are becoming event centers. In the South Australia’s McLaren Vale wine region, where the rules are different, one venture has clearly and unapologetically crossed that line.
Rising out of vineyards, the five-story-tall d’Arenberg Cube looks like a glass Rubic cube in mid-move. Visitors can see a 360-degree video room, take in art in the Alternate Realities Museum, sniff flowers and fruit in sensory rooms, taste wine and eat in a restaurant. The center contains no wine production.
“It’s controversial,” Dillon said.
“Even within my own mind,” Ramos said.
One Australian wine publication said the Cube took “winery tourism to a new level.”
Dillon showed a photo of d’Arenberg proprietor Chester Osborn pointing to a map of soil types. Dillon and Ramos said the d’Arenberg vineyards are bio-dynamically farmed, with horses used instead of tractors on some parcels.
“He knew his art and he knew his geology,” Dillon said.
Ramos said South Australia takes a proactive approach to agricultural biosecurity, while Napa County tends to be more reactive. When she arrived in the country, a security dog sniffed a backyard chicken smell on her shoes.
In Napa County, vine-destroying Pierce’s disease has long been a concern.
“They said, ‘Australia does not have Pierce’s disease and we will prevent ourselves from receiving it,’ ” Ramos said. “Just think about that, something that has plagued us. They just don’t have it and they are intent on keeping it that way.”
Great Wine Capitals delegates were supposed to meet a kangaroo – after all, this is South Australia – but apparently the kangaroo was in a bad mood and got replaced by reptiles. A photo from the trip shows Ramos forcing a smile as she holds a snake.
“I only took this picture because it would make my 11-year-old really proud,” Ramos told her colleagues.
Ramos talked about the rolling nature of the Adelaide Hills part of South Australia, with its little valleys and ponds.
“It was very (like) home,” Ramos said. “There are a few places on earth that are selected to do just this, to do just what we do, and this is one of them.”
With that, Dillon and Ramos wrapped up their report on a trip that seemed part Great Wine Capitals business and part scoping out some of Napa Valley’s international competition.
“It was educational and informative,” Dillon said.
Great Wine Capitals members are San Francisco/Napa Valley; Adelaide, South Australia; Bilbao/Rioja, Spain; Bordeaux, France; Lausanne, Switzerland; Mainz/Rheinhessen, Germany; Mendoza, Argentina; Porto, Portugal; Valparaiso/Casablanca Valley, Chile and Verona, Italy.