I am writing in response to your article “Planned Yountville Hill Winery draws protest” on April 13, 2014.
Faced with another ego-driven tourist attraction masquerading as agriculture, is it any wonder that the actual residents of the valley might be upset. It is time to recognize that the Winery Definition Ordinance of 2010 got it wrong.
Tourism is not agriculture. It is tourism. And its ultimate impact will be to turn, and in many places has already turned, the valley into a parody of agriculture in which caves and vine rows are merely backdrops for the real business of the valley: “Wine parings and marketing events.”
At present, the winery capacity in the valley has exceeded, or is very close to exceeding, the availability of Napa grapes, hence the increasing demand by vintners to drop the 75 percent rule. The incredible vineyard expansion in the hills over the last 20 years means undeveloped land available for vineyards is becoming nonexistent.
But the number of wineries being proposed is increasing exponentially as the new super-rich that have benefited from the latest uptick in the economy look for “a winery of their own” to show off.
The Agricultural Preserve of 1968 has been a historic success in maintaining small-scale agriculture in the modern world. The Napa farmers and vintners, whose livelihood is in the making of wine, have been able to prosper and maintain this beautiful agricultural paradise for the last 40 years in the face of enormous pressure to pave over the vines with development.
Tourism has been a part of that success, to be sure, but once tourism becomes the principal economic activity of the valley, and the incentive is to pave over the vines to put in a new winery to attract tourist dollars, it is the beginning of the end.
Following the French and Persian palaces, the Tuscan castles, aerial trams and Planet Hollywood wannabes, the conference centers, grand hotels and roller coasters will come. The vine rows on the postcards will be beautiful.
It is time to look again at tourism and visualize its cumulative effect on the valley in the years to come. The unfortunate 2010 adjustment to the WDO occurred during the backdrop of recessionary times. Recessions are generally short periods and not good times to make long-term decisions.
The Yountville Hill project should be stopped along with all the other vanity winery projects in the pipeline, until the county can come to grips with the changes in character to the valley that these projects pose.
Hocker lives in Napa.