Is tourism a problem? It depends who you ask, but it's impact has been feared and debated for a very long time as an issue. Even way back in 1972 when many of us were still living life in black and white, and cable was part of your corduroys instead of your TV, tourism's impact in the Napa Valley was being reviewed and questioned.
Some things have have remained the same today but the narrator in the above news piece offered an interesting view into tasting rooms of the day when he said tourism was "important to PR, and to a lesser extent, sales."
You see, tasting rooms back in the day weren't put in place to sell wine. That's what distributors did. Tasting rooms were nice-to-haves. My how those days have changed!
Today tasting rooms and tourism are linked to the survival of family wineries. Direct sales represent 60% of an average winery's sales, and tourism is the lifeblood of the family winery. Without tourism and direct sales, I'd make an educated guess that 60% of the wine business as we know it would fail.
Progress or Too Much of a Good Thing?
In 1972 the Sonoma Ag Commissioner reported record gross farm income was led by milk production - not wine. Grape production was well down the list alongside cattle and apple production. Zinfandel was the largest planted variety followed by Carignane and Petite Sirah. 12,500 acres were planted to red grapes and 4,500 were planted to white.
Today winegrape production in Sonoma has consumed 62,000 acres of land which is an 11.5% compound annual growth rate since that report.
In the same year, Napa's Ag Commissioner reported grapes were the number one crop followed by cattle for meat. The Napa valley had almost 8,000 producing acres in grapes with Cabernet leading the way, followed by a close tie with Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Cabernet acreage had almost doubled in the early decade as prune orchards were being pulled.
Compare that to the present with reported planted acreage in Napa of nearly 44,000 acres and half that planted to cabernet. Cattle for meat doesn't show up as an important part of Napa ag outputs at this point. For all intents and purposes, Napa is fully planted to wine grapes now. There is virtually no available land to plant. The growth rate in planted vineyards since 1972 has averaged 12.7% per year.
The Scourge of Tourism
|Heavy Traffic In Napa - 1975|
May 1972 was the date the above video clip ran on KPIX in the Bay Area. The video focuses on the problem tourism was causing and it's interesting to note some of the comments: parking lots are full, there is no tourism season anymore, and there were over 500,000 visitors making their way to the Napa Valley adding to traffic described as "the Bayshore Freeway during rush hour." It's not hard to imagine the reporter adding in something about "event center wineries" which is a derisive term that has been successfully embedded into the debate by the current anti-change contingent.
The Worst Fears Realized?
There are a lot more visitors to Napa today, and there are a lot more wineries too which makes the parking for this growing business far more tolerable. Is that a bad thing?
There is no question that fashion is better today than back in the 1970's when I dressed in Angels Flight cords for a party. But was it worse living in the Napa Valley in 1972 or is it worse today in 2016 with all the additional tourism? Was all that fear justified in the news report above?
Is Evolution and Change Bad?
A Sonoma State University survey noted 88% of locals said wineries had a positive or very positive impact on their quality of life. Ninety four percent of the regions inhabitants said the wine industry contributed positively to the beauty and culture of the reason. But just like the 1972 video above, 63% think the industry and tourism contributes to traffic and congestion. The less than positive findings on traffic aren't enough to offset the very positive feelings for the wine business as a whole so on the whole, those are pretty positive findings!
Through the Eyes of Someone Who Saw it All
Interestingly. unlike so many who today want to "return things to the way they were," Mr. Mondavi didn't. He saw the past as difficult. He spoke in clear terms about the challenges of the past, about how hard his parents had to work to get by.
While many people romanticize the past and their childhood remembrances, they forget the challenges faced by those who came before us. Those difficulties are removed from memory in favor of the life portrayed in the 1993 movie the Sandlot but that's not real life. Peter Mondavi had this to say about the past:
- Prohibition: We did what we had to to survive. We might have stretched a few laws.
- Repeal: We just worked. No root stock, no equipment, no experienced winemakers.
- The 60's: There really wasn't a consumer market yet. Everything was an experiment.
- The Golden Years of the Napa Valley: Today is the best we've ever been. We are all so lucky, but our best days are still ahead. We are such a young business.
I loved that last answer. Here is a man who understands context. He's seen the Napa Valley through it's most difficult period, through the growth discussed in the video at the top, and even at 100+ he saw the future as bright. Today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better! He saw the tasting room as a key component of success and invested millions in the development of the Krug Visitation center to support the changes he witnessed.
The Right Answer to the Scourge of Tourism
I don't see tourism as a scourge and truth be told, there are very few people who do:
- If you ask locals in the Central Coast or the North Coast where surveys have been run by colleges, the answer is the wine business improves the quality of life. Tourism impacts life, but it's part of the package to have success in the wine business and the quality of life wineries produce.
- The tourists all want to return to wine country for another visit. It cant be that bad can it?
- According to statistics from the various County Offices, tourism adds immensely to the coffers in the form of local taxes. Those are taxes the locals don't have to pay!
- Ask the veterans of the wine business and they don't view tourism as a scourge either. They see tourism as hospitality. They welcome visitors.
- Ask the charities throughout the nation who each year receive tens of millions of dollars from events where tourists come and leave their hard-earned cash. They will say they like tourists just fine
The question about tourism was asked in 1972 and it's being asked again in the press. But is tourism really that much of a problem?