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Don't talk down the wine industry

Don't talk down the wine industry

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Too many writers are using “scare copy” letters to try to harm our wine industry. Yes our whole wine industry is harmed when irresponsible citizens trash our need for and appeal to wine visitors. Our competitors in all the other new world wine regions across the world are happy to see this dissension in our ranks; it tells them that we aren’t concentrating on doing our best work to compete.

“Scare copy” is bad advocacy and embarrasses both the writer and the readers. Look at this egregious example. A local activist wants to scare us by saying in the Aug. 19 Register ("2010 WDO changes should have been put to vote") that, “we now have close to 23,000 events permitted at wineries each year." His other big scare tactic is to tell us that wine tourism is the cause of our traffic and parking problems.

1. Look how un-scary 23,000 winery events really is: 23,000 divided by 362 days (assuming everyone's closed Christmas, New Year's, and Thanksgiving) is just 63.53 total events per day. Divide that by 442 wineries and you have the staggering total of .14 events per winery per day -- or less than one event a week. Or about four per month. Hardly the issue where we should be putting our energy and efforts.

2. Traffic impact numbers by winery visitors I have seen indicate winery generated visitor traffic ranges from less than 20 percent to about 22 percent of all traffic. Don’t try to scare us with traffic numbers. Factor in the county’s population growth over the past 20 years and the numbers look different. ABAG predicted Napa County population growth 1995-2015 to be 31,350. I’ll bet that number resulted in close to 30,000 additional vehicles here, too.

Napa Valley wrote the book on becoming a super premium wine region in the New World. Unfortunately, now we are a mature market, the old bull that is letting too many other wine regions pass us by. Lose it all -- and nobody reading this note will have a job here. It’s much easier to fix our business than to start from scratch.

What is revealing is that we got to the top using targeted winery visitor marketing. Start with Beringer’s Fred Abruzzini back in the '40s when he invited top entertainers, politicians and royalty to visit the Rhine House.

Look at old Inglenook where Finnish sea captain Gustave Niebaum entertained in his private tasting room fitted to look like a posh cabin on one of his ships. Salute Robert Mondavi for his “Great Chefs” series that told the big spenders to come. Count the hundreds of little personal events hosted by winery owners for their best customers. One example I know shows how simply organic and effective they were: Margaret and Dan Duckhorn grilled duck for guests in their backyard to show off their merlot. Sure, count that as an “event” -- the kind that we rode to the top.

And, the best reason of all -- those enthusiastic and motivated visitors will go home and sell more NV wine in their home towns than our best sales representatives ever could. It’s not the three bottles and a cork screw they buy here; it’s the hundreds of bottles of wine they will buy over the years ahead -- plus hundreds more they will influence among their family neighbors, friends, local wine shops and restaurants. They are our best salespersons -- or somebody else’s -- you choose. Let’s welcome them with more of the good old fashioned Napa Valley hospitality that got us here.

Bill Ryan

St. Helena

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