My family has farmed and made wines right here in beautiful Napa Valley for over 100 years and I am in my 47th year working in all phases of grape growing and winemaking. I feel compelled to speak out about a sea-change in regulation against vineyards, farming and wineries that I believe threatens the entire valley.
I will leave it to others to debate the details of the Measure C initiative and instead will focus on the bigger picture.
On the surface, one may think regulation will provide even greater protection of our wine and grape industry. Indeed, our landmark Agricultural Preserve of 1968 achieved its aims.
So what is really happening? The “post-Ag Preserve” regulations imposed on our key industry are so onerous that our valley’s future – including its economic vitality and strong base of jobs – has already been jeopardized.
While some regulation is necessary and good, the valley’s regulations have gone too far, threatening the ability of growers and vintners to run viable operations.
Today it is common for them to worry more about what they can or cannot do than about farming and making wine. It is not an exaggeration to say that one of the greatest threats facing our wine community has come from within Napa Valley itself – and all of us who call the valley home face grave risks if we stay on this path.
I believe the growers and vintners who are against Measure C are simply reacting to additional regulation that will injure our businesses and risk our future.
I feel that my personal take on our valley is shared by many. Our valley is more beautiful than ever before. Our hills, rivers, streams and oaks are sufficiently protected. Our water supply is healthy and sustainable.
Personally I prefer having green vines instead of dry grassy open meadows on our hills - this is also better for fire protection and lessens risk of life for first responders and those who live in the hills.
What will happen if things continue as they are? My guess is that we will face an end to the Ag Preserve. After all, once the majority of Napa Valley landowners desire the best return on their investment - and grapes or wine are no longer profitable – the news will be far different than Measure C.
It will be a callout by landowners to remove the Ag Preserve, thereby allowing the sale of land for other uses.
This will not happen overnight, but given our current course, it is a predictable and logical outcome. Consider the inevitable – how an economic downturn, faltering wine popularity or inability to profit comes into play.
Or when consumers, sommeliers and wine buyers of retail stores consider wines from elsewhere the smart and best buy.
The reality is that Napa Valley does not have a lock on the market and can take nothing for granted, including superlative quality. Look at Paso Robles, for example – their wines are top notch and they are cleaning Napa’s clock when it comes to profits.
As the head of a family business myself, it hurts me every time I see another family-held winery sell out. I am also dismayed when publicly held companies expand their facilities adding to our work traffic.
Also concerning are the investment groups who buy, build and sell on the back of Napa Valley. These new forces are moving in to replace family-owned properties and wineries.
I feel regulation is the largest impetus in this momentous shift, which damages everyone who lives or finds employment here. Corporations make their decisions in offices far away from Napa. Their single driving objective is making money, not creating jobs, preserving our resources or enhancing the quality of life for local residents.
Reflecting on the heated arguments being put forth in support of Measure C, it is hard not to conclude that we’re having the wrong conversation.
People in Napa have legitimate frustrations – traffic and lack of affordable housing being the largest. Oaks? I love oaks and protect them. Let there be no mistake – I am against Measure C and believe it will do more harm than good. But I ask, what about our real problems?
Regardless of what happens with Measure C, we all need to recognize that our wine valley’s viability is already at risk. I remember when the idea of creating a world-class wine region was just a dream. That the people of the valley have realized this dream is a triumph.
I’m often surprised how opposing sides desire the same end goal. We all agree it’s a priority to preserve our beauty and natural resources. However we should recognize our key industry also needs preservation.