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Napa Valley Sign

Groups of tourists take turns photographing each other in front of the welcome sign along Highway 29 near Oakville. 

Almost one year after the October 2017 wildfires, the Napa Valley continues to make economic strides in recovering from the natural disaster, reported the county’s official tourism agency, Visit Napa Valley.

Visitor data from July showed that revenue for Napa County lodging establishments was up .5 percent — from $42.6 million July 2017 to $42.9 million this July.

“We’ve seen steady visitation numbers all summer,” said Lisa Poppen, vice president, marketing and communications for Visit Napa Valley. “That’s good news for visitor-serving businesses throughout the valley.”

Post-fire, hotels maintained occupancy with fire-related contract business and displaced group business during low season, as visitors continued their return to the area.

Overall, occupancy dropped 5.6 percent in July, but that is somewhat skewed by the addition of new hotel rooms, such as Archer Hotel Napa, according to Visit Napa Valley.

Year-to-date, as of July 2018, group travel room rates were up 6.7 percent and occupancy down 2.5 percent. Leisure travel was relatively flat, with occupancy down 0.5 percent and room rates down 1.1 percent.

The number of lodging rooms in Napa County grew 3.8 percent year-to-date. At the same time, consumer demand for those rooms, which is measured by variables including the number of rooms sold, grew 2.8 percent.

“Our goal is to strategically grow demand by reaching new audiences, as well as encouraging longer lengths of stay, so the Napa County tourism economy continues to see healthy growth, and residents benefit from resulting tax revenues,” said Poppen.

Additionally, introductory offers and discounts from new hotels in the valley are impacting overall rate growth, said the agency. Such offers are to be expected, said Poppen.

“It’s a part of any hotel marketing. They’re new and trying to get their name out.”

Statewide wildfire perception may also be affecting demand, Visit Napa Valley reported.

However, there are reasons to be thankful, according to the tourism agency.

Firstly, the wildfires last October burned predominantly in the forested hillsides of Napa County – away from larger populated areas.

While dramatic, the physical effect was limited. The fires burned less than 14 percent (about 70,000 acres) of Napa Valley’s total 504,000 acres, said the report.

The famous valley floor, located between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, saw little to no impact.

Only a small number of wineries in Napa Valley were affected by the fires. No Napa County hotels were lost in the fires.

Visit Napa Valley touted a number of upcoming initiatives in the valley including Cabernet Season, the Safeway Open (Oct. 1 to 7) and the Napa Valley Film Festival (Nov. 7 to 11).

In addition, since October 2017, five new hotels and several new restaurants have opened in the valley. Those include: The Francis House in Calistoga (September 2018), Vista Collina in Napa (July 2018), The Bungalows in Calistoga (May 2018), The Ink House in St. Helena (February 2018) and Archer Hotel Napa (November 2017)

New Napa Valley restaurants include: Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar at Archer Hotel Napa (April 2018), Gran Electrica in Napa (March 2018), Lovina in Calistoga—formerly Calistoga Kitchen (March 2018) and Charlie Palmer Steak at Archer Hotel Napa (November 2017)

The 2017 Napa Valley vintage

According to Visit Napa Valley, the Napa Valley Vintners are reporting that winemakers are “very excited about the quality of the wines from the 2017 vintage.”

“Although the fires were a terrible tragedy, the Napa Valley wine industry, its wineries and its vineyards were largely spared,” said the Visit Napa Valley report.

An estimated 90 percent of Napa Valley’s grape tonnage was harvested before the wine country wildfires started on Oct. 8, 2017.

A total of 10 percent of Napa Valley’s wineries and vineyards were directly affected. A reported 92 percent of vineyard acreage was outside of the fire zone and only 126 of Napa County’s 45,000 planted acres were declared destroyed by fire.

For grapes harvested after the fires, “winemakers are carefully evaluating their wines to make practical decisions and to learn from this experience,” Visit Napa Valley said.

In many cases, wineries are electing to destroy wines that do not live up their quality expectations. As a result, the volume of the 2017 vintage is expected to be lower than average, said the report.

“Everything possible will be done to ensure only wines from the 2017 vintage that meet Napa Valley quality standards will go to market.”

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.