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Is the Napa Valley wine industry at a tipping point? There is an emerging crisis of confidence with our Board of Supervisors. Do they have the leadership ability and moral courage to uphold the General Plan and support agriculture as the highest and best use of our land?

In 1991 the county and the agricultural community came together for the common goal of eliminating soil erosion and created the Conservation Ordinance. While we quibbled over some of the details, it was a successful collaborative effort. Today, the supervisors and the wine industry are sharply divided over any need to strengthen the current regulations.

The supervisors are demonstrating a callous disregard for the Napa wine industry’s concerns with the proposed changes, which are draconian and hostile to grape growers and property owners throughout Napa County. The county has also failed to provide any fact-based rationale or evidence to answer the question – Why are these changes needed? The truth is they are not needed. These changes are politically motivated, pure and simple.

While no one should want another initiative, the wine industry did not ask the supervisors to placate the Measure C zealots this way. Napa growers and vintners are more than willing to discuss and resolve real fact-based problems, but we will not allow our rights to be trampled on to advance the supervisors’ policy of appeasement.

If the supervisors continue down this regulatory path it will be irrefutable proof that the supervisors no longer support their own General Plan and will have demoted agriculture to a second-class status.

In the early 1990s our well-intentioned supervisors passed the country’s first and still most restrictive conservation ordinances in America, regulating hillside agriculture. These regulations have regularly been updated and strengthened. It’s worth noting that supervisors of our competitors have not acted similarly.

The Napa wine industry competes at a considerable disadvantage because of high land prices, the most restrictive regulations and a well-organized and vocal opposition that relentlessly attacks us.

It’s generally recognized that approximately 80 percent of the wineries in Napa make less than 5,000 cases per year and 80 percent of those wineries aren’t profitable. In this highly competitive marketplace, it’s my opinion that the Napa wine industry cannot survive without a supportive county government.

Only with the passage of time can economists recognize the tipping point that sends an industry into a uncontrolled tailspin. If enacted, will these new regulations be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back? Only time will tell.

Stuart Smith

St. Helena

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