Over the past few years we have had many people leaving their always beloved Napa county. And we had letters by Chuck and Daphne O'Rear and Sandy Ericson, all citing the high cost of living due to gentrification, increased property values, traffic congestion and all the reasons we are all aware of.
In their artistic sensitivity, the O'Rears identified the increasingly dark St. Helena neighborhoods at night hollowed out by second homers among the reasons for their departure. If they had children, they would also have mentioned the steady decline of the resulting student population.
Now we have the letter by Tom Wark (“An exit interview from Napa County,” Jan. 23) in which he also cites the high cost of living and housing "which outweigh the beauty and pleasure of living here" as reasons for his departure to the Oregon wine country.
As a parting salvo, he then proceeds to offer the most counter-evidentiary recommendations for Napa County going forward:
He urges the county to allow weddings at wineries, that it stop capitulating to the "small minority of NIMBYs" who demand to curtail the wine industry's growth, scorns the county for its recently approved code compliance resolution, and urges it to "do something about the lack of housing and to "promote local education institutions" (so much for investment in education and a declining enrollment).
The Willamette Valley in Oregon is one of the few remaining wine countries where one can still experience the charm and innocence the Napa Valley was not so long ago.
But with its successes in Pinot Noir it is rapidly being gentrified by big investors buying out long-established family-owned small wineries. Nowhere else have French Burgundy houses - large negotiants such as Drouhin and Jadot - invested enormous sums acquiring them. If not the French, it is big Napa Valley houses or dot-com fortunes who are moving in.
Most of them are banking on weddings, events, easy winery permitting processes and the scourge of tourism to increase their wealth. As has been proven time and time again from Napa to Sonoma, the Central Coast, the Santa Ynez valley, the same fate lies ahead for the Willamette.
When, in a decade or so, Mr. Wark will say goodbye to the Oregon wine country once again for the exact same reasons he is now leaving Napa, perhaps then he will finally realize what the others who have left it did and still do as they exit; namely that the recommendations he leaves behind constitute the exact inverse curve between them and everything that constitutes a high quality of life.
In the meantime, we try hard to keep the secret of the fast disappearing wholesomeness of the Willamette and hope Mr. Wark will come to his senses and respect what is left there.