To grow grapes in Napa Valley is to engage in a longstanding tradition. For nearly two centuries, Napa Valley farmers have worked with fertile volcanic soils and a unique climate, perfect for grapegrowing and agriculture of all kinds.
Records show that commercial vineyards began to be planted as early as the 19th century, and right away, Napa Valley wines were renowned for their quality. Even through trying times including Prohibition, natural disasters, and the relentless march of urban sprawl, agriculture has maintained its prominent position as an integral part of life in the Napa Valley.
This was not always a sure thing. In the 1960s, the community noticed that many nearby agricultural regions were in serious decline. Farmland was rapidly disappearing and being replaced by encroaching development. At that time, subdivisions and commercial development were more likely to bolster land values.
Even so, the community began discussing how to preserve Napa County’s agricultural legacy. While many other regions permanently paved over their agricultural land, Napa County did something unique and doubled down on agriculture. The result was nothing short of visionary.
2018 marks the beginning of the 50-year anniversary of Napa County’s Agricultural Preserve (AP)— the first of its kind in the nation. This landmark set of zoning laws, which encompasses AP and AW lands, established agriculture as the highest and best use of the land in Napa County. As grape growers, we believe this is a time to recognize the county’s successes that have resulted from its commitment to preserving ag land.
While on a national level, 40 acres of farmland is lost every hour due to urban sprawl — not one acre of Ag Preserve zoned land has been lost to urban use since its inception. Many landowners have even taken this commitment a step farther to protect their land in perpetuity by placing into voluntary conservation easements.
As the 50th anniversary approaches, growers are seeking even more ways to build on our successful land stewardship and take steps to ensure the continued success of sustainable agriculture in our county. As many of our 30- and 40-year-old vineyards near the end of their lives, we see replanting as an opportunity to improve on our past practices. This cycle of renewal and reflection on what works and how to improve it is leading to vineyards with lower input requirements while increasing efficiency and quality.
As we modernize these new vineyards, we adhere to stricter standards that include stream setbacks, promote forest canopy and native species retention, increase permanent cover cropping, and implement Napa County’s comprehensive conservation regulations and erosion control plans. Together, these voluntary efforts and rigorous existing regulations provide significant added protections to our environment, community, watersheds and local air quality.
Another important question we face leading up to the 50th anniversary is who will be our farmers of the future? Family businesses face immense challenges when passing the business on to the next generation. The average age of farmers nationally has been consistently on the rise, as fewer young people choose or can afford to get into farming. Napa’s commitment to heritage and family-owned businesses has played a crucial role in establishing Napa Valley as the world-class wine grapegrowing region it is today. It is vital that we support the next generation’s ability to farm and prosper in Napa County.
The Napa Valley Grapegrowers Association is committed to preserving and promoting Napa Valley vineyards — which to us, means protecting Napa County agriculture for future generations. This means farming for quality and with a deep respect for the land. It means actively working to maintain our county’s agricultural heritage and our sense of place. It also means working to ensure that the county as a whole continues to thrive.
We are committed to providing educational programs that support a vibrant industry working to set the gold standard for land stewardship.
Furthermore, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers has also made a commitment to support Napa Valley’s vineyard workforce, through the efforts of the Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Ag Preserve, we ask that you join us in renewing this commitment to Napa County agriculture.