Mike Hackett is a respected environmentalist and devoted advocate to keep Napa County from being overly exploited (“Napa Valley: From purists to tourists,” Aug 17). For this I applaud him, as I feel the same. However, I disagree with him on several points regarding his recent, one-sided letter to the editor.
He talked about how Napa Valley wineries used to be “purists, driven by their passion to grow … grapes and make the finest wine.” He intimates that this is no longer so. And those large corporations now own many of the wineries. Wrong. Dating at least 50 years many of the larger Napa Valley wineries (Rainer Brewing owned Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966) have always been owned by big corporations, but the vast majority of the wineries are family owned by people who live in and love the Napa Valley.
Mike said that recently, wineries have been allowed to have wine and food pairings, “events galore” and “evolved into event centers catering to tourists”. May I remind Mike that wineries have always held events to promote their wines, certainly dating to the 1940s. Events with or without food attract new customers, cement relations with longtime customers, promote the wineries, the Napa Valley and its great wines. These personal contacts are much more important than paid advertising, which small wineries could not afford anyway.
It should be noted that most events are held in the evening when there is light traffic. And most visitors to such events come on 52-passenger buses, not individual vehicles.
If a winery cannot promote its wines and winery with events and sell direct to the consumer, there is a good chance it will not survive. Certainly the few distributors who remain won’t give the time of day to these wineries unless they have star status.
If you overregulate the wineries and they are unable to sell their wines, who will buy the grapes? If grape sales falter, kiss what we love about the Napa Valley, the wineries, the vineyards, the bucolic scenery, goodbye. Napa County will become another bedroom community just like the Santa Clara valley, a prime agricultural area just 50 years ago.
Nothing is perfect, and residents must understand that there is a price to pay for having an agricultural area next to an urban area. Yes there will be tractor noise, bird alarms, wind machines, lights for picking at night, wine tourists and wine-related events. Get rid of these and you get rid of the wine industry in this county.
The question is, are residents willing to pay a price and endure some discomfort to have an ag industry in Napa County, or do they prefer housing and asphalt?
It is true that wineries and tourists contribute to traffic, but so do all the residents who moved here to be among the vineyards and wineries. Traffic studies found that wineries and tourists were responsible for only 18 percent of the traffic. That means residents and commercial enterprises account for the other 82 percent, more than four times as much. In my view, the wineries are a small problem compared to all the people moving to Napa County and contributing to traffic.
Hackett says “the benefits are going to a few while the many suffer the consequences.” I think it is the other way around. Not only do we have a beautiful ag county with scenic hillsides and byways, Ag, and our wine industry, are among the largest employers in Napa County. Thus, ag fosters employment while maintaining beautiful rural surroundings. What else can you ask for?
Perhaps Mike does not realize that the 12 percent tourist tax goes 100 percent directly to the General Fund to support police and fire, for roads and infrastructure and pay local government employees. Another tax, less than one sixth of this one, goes toward promoting tourism. It seems fair to me that visitors pay their fair share for the roads and services they use. Ultimately, residents pay fewer taxes because of the tourist tax.
Finally, Mike says “we will not have our tax dollars used to line the pockets of the tourist industry.” This is completely specious. Firstly, the tourists pay these taxes, not the residents. Secondly, the tourist tax goes to the General Fund. Otherwise we residents would be paying higher taxes to support the services we want.
There can’t be any ag without sales of wine. There can’t be sales of wine without tasting rooms, direct sales, promotion, personal contact, events. etc. Remember, Napa County competes against Sonoma, Mendocino, the rest of California and the world. If we think that taking the above away or decreasing it won’t be the beginning of the end for ag in the Napa Valley, we are very much mistaken.