Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Anti-Winery Sentiment is Building


The Winter of Our Public Discontent

John Steinbeck
Consistent with the farming traditions of the past, the wine business has long been known for its collegial, collaborative, and giving ways. There are always exceptions but people in the wine business historically have worked together for the common good of all.

Up until today in the business, there hasn't been a sense that your neighbor was a rival or competitor. They have been more of a co-laborer, each helping to build the pie larger and get the message to the masses.

But life hasn't been quite as neighborly lately, particularly in the North Coast wine community where an anti-winery, anti-tourist sentiment has been simmering in many locales for years, building, and is now producing some of the following headlines in the area in which I live:


The Source of Our Discontent

A Mixture of Interests Collide
Where is the source of this discontent emanating - or maybe the better question is from who?
In some respects, this backlash is self-inflicted because we used to promote the wine business as a weigh-station for wannabe rich and famous tourists. The general populace however roots for the underdog and hopes the top dog falls off their mountain top. That's been made abundantly clear with the Occupy Movement messaging and the related social threads since the Great Recession.

Ironically that lifestyle characterization for the wine business is largely a mirage because anyone in the business knows the average return on assets and pre-tax profitability really isn't that great compared to alternative investments. But perhaps if the business were seen by non-industry folks as it really is: family farms and hard-working family businesspeople instead of affluent toys - perhaps then the non-wine community wouldn't process the discussion as "us against them" or "they can afford to go without." 
No matter the sociology, while the underlying sentiment might be a part of the issue, more directly to the question, the discontent is emanating from three primary groups; locals, politicians, and the wine business itself.
Local and non-local individuals are attracted to the wine country lifestyle but at times the reality of living in a grape-growing community and dealing with frost protection fans, sulfur spray, early morning tractors, tourists, traffic, and late-night events can become an eye-opening experience and wasn't what they thought it would be like to live in wine country.

Other people moved to wine country with their eyes open and found their perfect spot with just the right balance of activity, views, and wineries but they don't want to see a change in their neighborhood or on their street. Let that be in somebody else's backyard. It ends up being a discussion of landowner rights once new landowners seek to develop their holdings. That situation is represented by this newspaper quote:
"Bill Hocker who owns a weekend home down the street from the project site, said it's much too big for the area and would draw 18,000 people up a rural winding road each year for tastings and events. Hocker said he is organizing neighborhood opposition to the winery project, similar to what's been happening to other winery projects in the past year. There's a whole host of issues we're going to attack on, Hocker said."

This isn't my best Picture
Politicians are another source of discontent. When dealing with vocal opposing sides in a public debate, it's the rare politician who will take a firm stand unless they know they are in the supermajority. They have constituents to please on both sides of a debate. Some politicians though pander to the anti-tourism sentiment and that seems to be growing. That view is represented by statements such as these:
"Proponents of tougher regulations, including Councilman Steve Barbose, had argued that an excess of tasting rooms could turn Sonoma into a one-note town friendlier to tourists than residents."
The anti-tourism view flies in the face of the economics and job creation in all wine regions. Napa Valley for example has over three million tourists visiting annually leaving $1.4 billion in direct spending and generating $51.7 million in tax revenue, while visitors to Sonoma County spent $1.55 billion and paid $65.64 million in taxes. That funds a lot of local programs that enhance the quality of life.

        The Wine Industry

The final source of the public discontent is coming from a minority of grape growers, winery owners, and winery employees each dissenting for different reasons, but producing comments such as these from the employees of a winery who are concerned with the permitting of a nearby winery project:
"It will be like a light bulb at night for their parties. The 37 planned spaces wouldn't be sufficient to handle the crowds. The access driveway is located on a particularly busy street, and be a misuse of the Winery Definition Ordinance."

Intention, Good or Bad, is Not Enough

It's hard to criticize these actions and comments. Each person is acting in what they perceive as their own self-interest, and we are all self-interested to some degree. There has to be a balance between serving a community and serving tourists. Almost all of us who are used to looking out our back yard at a vineyard would be more than disappointed if the owner decided to put a barn 20 feet from our existing fence line and blocked our view. Who wouldn't raise a stink over that?

That said, it appears to me when industry participants themselves start fanning the flames of debate in the press, we've lost sight of the collaborative values upon which the industry has thrived. From my vantage point that is a step backward in thinking. We still desperately need each other for shared success, without which this kind of public discontent leads to disturbing headlines such as this one:


Plenty of Ethan Allen Hawleys to Go Around

Hard Balancing Act
Each of the sources and parties of discontent have entirely valid points. But finding the right compromises between job creation, tax revenue, house values, jobs, and the varying local views of what is, and isn't desired in an individual's lifestyle and locale isn't an easy task. No question, it's a very hard balancing act but it's one that's needed.

Its also not a problem isolated to just Napa and Sonoma. A read of the press in the Central Valley, Willamette Valley, and Central Coast of California, and many other places across the U.S. will find similar Op-Eds, self-interested debates, and articles discussing everything noted here and more.

In my opinion, the wine business has some work to do by first doing a gut-check and making sure we are still committed to our historic cooperative values. There is also a need for ongoing regional PR efforts to remind locals of all the good the wine business does in communities, and how the presence of wineries enhances lifestyle and property values. And last, the business community needs to do a better job of educating local politicians on the benefits of the wine business, the evolved need for direct-to-consumer sales and entertainment, and the financial benefits tourism has in their regions.
What do you think about the anti-tourism and anti-winery sentiment that's building? Please join this site at the top right of the page for updates and posts, and log in to offer your own thoughts on this topic. 
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  1. Look at the photo : toxic, poisoning.
    You did not understand !

    1. Mark Andre - you are right. I don't understand.

    2. Loll ?! You are a true American, bounded as it should be!

  2. They are oppose to wineries because of pollution created by them.

    1. What pollution, exactly, would you be referring to?

    2. LOL ??? What about pesticides, chemical fertilizers, chemical weedkiller, etc, etc,... . '-__-

      It would be too much to ask to American society to develop biodynamic agriculture, they prefer to destroy the planet as they know so well!

    3. ManuKey - You are uninformed about the lengths the wine business goes to create green, sustainable, organic, and biodynamic businesses. In Napa alone there are over 50 certified biodynamic wineries. That excludes grape growers, excludes certified organic and excludes all the other initiatives from fully solar to certified LEED status winery developments. I challenge you to find a more eco-friendly agricultural community.

      The opposition to wineries does not come from their stewardship of their properties.

  3. If you lived in Maine, you'd hate the tourists that come in and change your life every summer and head for the mountains in the winter. It's just that people don't want to be invaded by those from "away."

    1. Thanks for logging in and the note Jo.

      I agree that tourists can be viewed as a take-away. A lot of people do view them in that regard, but tourists aren't really negatively impacting the quality of life. They are easy targets, but without them, the industry would be in a sad state.

      Personally, when I see someone in town on vacation I spend time talking to them, answering questions, and giving guidance. It might be their one trip to my town, and I want them to take back great memories of the people of my town.

      We each make a choice each day to live where we do. I don't blame tourist for that. Its my choice. The impacts of tourism and wine industry growth are the responsibility of all of us working together.

    2. Rob-

      My sincere thanks for what is a fairly balanced look at the issues. As NIMBY-in chief in the article I had better respond. I would suggest one obvious solution to the traffic in your backyard: reduce the tourist numbers. It is the equating of tourism and agriculture in the WDO, instigated and reinforced by development interests, that has led to a tourism industry beginning to engulf the the wine industry. Your traffic jams are a sure sign of the decay of an agricultural economy. Everyone is quite right to assume that I am self-interested in wanting to arrest that decay in my backyard. My backyard is agriculture and I am not interested in living next to a tourist attraction. Also the property rights mantra was invoked here. Let's be clear - if property rights advocates had been in charge in 1968 we would not be discussing a wine industry now.

      The original intent of the Williamson Act and of the Ag Preserve was to protect small-scale agriculture from the more profitable development of the land for housing, shopping centers and tourist attractions. Our government seems to have lost sight of that initial premise. Development interests, always seeking to maximize profits from a piece of land, have been pressing on the dikes of the Ag Preserve since its inception. A major fissure occurred with the augmented tourism provisions of the 2010 revision to the WDO, and profiteering in the name of saving agriculture has become the norm since. But ask any of the developers of these new projects if they will forgo the tourism and just build a winery - they will refuse. The reality is that new wineries are unnecessary; 100% of Napa grapes will find a happy bottle in an exiting Napa winery forever. All of the 2013 crop of Napa grapes could have been processed in just one existing Napa winery, one building, and still left many of its fermentation tanks empty. But, given our legal lip-service to agriculture, wineries are a necessary accessory if a tourist attraction is to be built. Hence they are proposed. The wine industry has survived and can survive with minimal tourism, as the Ag Preserve envisioned, if the attitude of maximizing profits is replaced with an attitude of sustainable profits. There are vintners, committed to the quality of their product and the dedication to their craft, that have eschewed tourism and still operate profitably. That is the wine industry you feel is misguided in their attitude toward tourist attractions. From my standpoint, that is the wine industry that our government, through revisions to the WDO should be supporting to move the county back to the agricultural base at the heart of the the commitment made 45 years ago.

    3. Bill Hocker - Thanks for logging in and using your real name. Its easy in a debate to hide behind "Anonymous" or a fictional name.

      Without debating your points specifically, I would simply point out the comment at the end of your post - the part where you want to move the wine industry back to where it was 45 years ago - that's an extreme point of view that has no practical path, even for the ends to your argument; to halt change on your street.

      Napa was an Agricultural community in the 60's. We had pig farms, walnuts and horses. There were about 50 wineries and they weren't much in the press or yellow pages back then.

      I respect the preservation of agriculture in the valley and side with the guidelines and the framworks that protect development to residential sprawl. But the character of the valley from the days of the Ag Preserve vote has had to evolve to make farming profitable from what it was back then - and that has meant wineries have dominated the economics.

      To be fair, you aren't arguing for agricultural preservation let alone reverting back to what we had 45 years ago in Napa, because whether its a winery or a pig farm down the street, your argument would simply be to stop any development that changes what you have on your street.

      Thanks again for offering your perspective. I respect your view. It has a logic and I understand it.

    4. We do, in fact, have a pig farm just down the street - and roasted one last year! Honestly! It's those pesky tourists I can't abide.

    5. Bill - I'm not sure you will get this response unless you checked the "notify me" box. I'm working on something on the blog and ran across your comments so thought I'd throw out another in the chance you might see this.

      Since this was posted, I've spoken in front of the County Supervisors on the wine industry and while there, asked if there was a traffic study ever done to determine where the traffic was coming from. It turns out one was in process but none had been done prior. Comments about tourists causing traffic aren't yet supported then.

      The survey determined that the impact of tourism on traffic was in fact pretty negligible. You could stop all tourism, and there would still be traffic problems given those findings. Imagine what it would be like to cut out all tourism and still have no change in the traffic?

      I think its important to first define the problem before solving for it, and while the traffic study that was issued was a start, it was far from encompassing.

      My observations are that the problem is commuting from Napa to the north in the morning, and back again at night. Its jobs that are being created and if that's indeed the case, the solutions are other than keeping out tourists.

      Hopefully, we will start with better defining the problem and put more work behind enhancing that study so some solutions can be found that help preserve the Napa valley's charm,

  4. The fellow you referred to, Mr. Hocker, wrote in another editorial:

    "Faced with another ego-driven tourist attraction masquerading as agriculture......"

    & "But the number of wineries being proposed is increasing exponentially as the new super-rich that have benefited from the latest uptick in the economy look for “a winery of their own” to show off".....

    The inherent class warfare notwithstanding, I find these arguments somewhat disingenuous, given that you pretty much have to be rich nowadays to own or start a winery, since the startup costs are so high, and real estate is a big part of that. Not to mention that given the lack of distribution opportunities for small wineries means you must sell it yourself in your tasting room, winery, or faux chateau as the case may be....

    Here in Healdsburg, I've noticed there is a good part of the population who thinks anybody who makes or buys wine is some kind of an wealthy alcoholic, and in fact I see references to "Alco-Tourism" muttered about in anonymous replies to any online articles on winery related news...

    1. Eric - thanks for logging in and offering your thoughts.

      Its a shame to me that there is an anti-tourism bias since its the biggest contributor to the Sonoma coffers. Without wine tourism, there would be fewer wineries. Some people would say "good!." The problem is those same people reap the rewards of an enhanced economy that produces jobs and enhances their property values. Take away the tourists and people wont like the result.

  5. When is enough, enough? There are not enough planted grapes in Napa to allow all the existing wineries to comply with the 75% rule. Permitting additional wineries is tacitly approving the breaking of the winery ordinance regulation.

    1. Thank you for logging in and your perspective Maria. The point you raise is a well-cited sound bite, but I can't find any math that supports that. Can you point me in a direction?

    2. Public Record:
      Total Wine Production from Napa: 31.5* million gallons
      Approved winery use permits in Napa County: 119.5 million gallons (four times production)
      *Production assumptions: 45,000 acres x 4 tons/acre x 175 gallons/ton

    3. So, by the 75% rule, wineries in Napa can produce up to 42 million gallons not the 119.5 million gallons via current use permit approval. Should Napa County continue to issue more use permits, effectively sanctioning fraudulent production and ultimately compromising the reputation and integrity of Napa Valley wines?

    4. James Henry - Thanks for logging in and for posting the data. I haven't seen the 119.5M figure. I'm not sure where to look in on the County web site for that. Can you point me in that direction?

      Of course, the reality is no matter what the permit says, Napa is still only producing 31.5M gallons using your calculations. Unused capacity obviously doesn't impact traffic or noise.

      The next question should be, "Then why have 120M gallons approved?" The answer is we can't have permitting just equal to production. It would lead to sub-optimal outcomes for the growers in heavy years.

      The second reason for more permitted gallonage is planned growth in a winery. Again, the reality is that's just a plan. Some will hit their plans but most wont. Then an argument can be made to reduce the permitted capacity that's unused, but again - if its unused then its not going to change or impact anything unless we find more acreage or increase tonnage - and neither of those are likely except on the margin.

      IMO in vineyard contrained Napa, the discussion should be on the things people object to like noise and traffic, versus the permitted capacity issue because that wont chage the traffic or noise.

      What things can be done? Focusing on traffic, a development district at the airport that encourages wineries to open their alternating permit in a condensed area so consumers can walk between venues and use public transportation. That will keep many consumers in the South County with better roads. In addition, I'd incent wineries to remove their office and admin staffs to that same development, and encourage more work from home for office work. Light rail is another option that would take investment but is also doable to reduce traffic and noise.

      We really haven't scratched the surface in terms of public works, of the things that can be done to improve the quality of life for all locals in Napa.

    5. Anon 10:29 - I don't see Napa County sanctioning fradulent production. Its fradulent no matter what the permit says, and the penalties for using grapes other than what is listed on the bottle can be quite severe.

    6. It is important to remember that a percentage of that total production permitted includes wineries grandfathered prior to 75% rule. Permitting often does not equate fully to year-over production either.

      Further, permitting statistics don't support reductionist arguments of consumer "fraud" or reputational loss as TTB consumer labeling regulations are quite clear as to approval requirements for specific descriptions of geographic/appellation origin.

      Permitted gallons may exceed Napa appellation planted, but there is no evidence that percentage is wrongly labelled as such.

    7. Log in to the Napa County website and find the Winery Database Listing, then add to it the wineries approved since February 2012 (not included):

    8. James - thanks so much for the link! I appreciate it as I educate myself more fully on the issue being debated.

    9. Wineries need a plan, agreed. The county of Napa needs a plan as well. For planning purposes, if Napa’s vineyards can produce 31.5 million gallons, how much should wineries be allowed to produce?
      It seems clear that Napa wineries should produce the amount of wine equivalent to what Napa vineyards can produce. That may be more in some years than others, so we should base the maximum permitted gallonage on a maximum theoretical production and make allowances for large production years.

      The issue is this: the consumer believes that Napa wineries are making wine from Napa grapes. As the distinctive qualities of viticultural areas become more valued by the consumer, it is important to respect the origin of the grapes. Grape sourcing in Napa is becoming more and more difficult since grapes are already spoken for four-fold. This puts the integrity of Napa wine at risk.

      The construction of new wineries may, in some cases, be taking up land that would be otherwise dedicated to grapegrowing, further reducing grape availability. What is worse, however, is that some applicants see the potential in making money from entertainment facilities, illegal in Napa based on the WDO, and use a winery permit as a justification for their visitor retail center, thus perverting the intention of the Ag Preserve and the WDO… .

    10. Jan - Thank you for the comments and logging in. Sincerely grateful for the POV.

      I really think the mismatch between production limits and grape production is a redherring for many reasons, but practically speaking, no matter what - the total production of Napa Valley wont exceed .... the total production of Napa Valley. Production limits could be set 50x the amount that can be produced from the grapes but its not going to amount to a single extra bottle of 100% Napa wine produced.

      The grapes aren't spoken for four-fold. I can tell you factually that our clients have enough wine right now, and slightly more than needed which is slightly depressing grape prices. Further, the winery developments aren't likely to take up any significant grape production space. The Yountville case above is an abandoned B&B on top of a hill. The Atlas Peak development is largely underground.

      What is going to have to take place at some point is the recognition that the wholesale side of distribution doesn't represent wineries like they did when the WDO was in discussions, and thankfully for the business - the Granholm decision allowed those same wineries to ship directly, without which we wouldn't have the kind of economic success and job creation that we see here. We might instead just have big commercial wineries producing mass produced wine because they would be the only wineries who would get distribution. That wouldn't make the experience in Napa any better.

      We can solve the traffic and noise problems together and find reasonable mitigations to other concerns that are bracketed in ordinances. What we can't reasonably stop is evolution/change/development.

      I hope that doesn't sound too critical of your perspective.

  6. Tragedy of the Commons, pure and simple.


      It is indeed.

  7. I believe the opposition grows as the ostentatious nature of the projects is going over the top, mostly by outside new wealth wanting the ego boost. Even as a 45 year member of the wine industry and resident of St Helena, I find myself very put off by this trend. Tragedy of the Commons is very well applied here

    1. Phil - Thanks for logging in and commenting.

      I believe there is a class issue involved in the background. It does take a lot of investment to put up a Napa winery - even a modest one. There are some pretty grand facades out there too.

      I personally can't relate to being put off by the well designed grand architectural wineries that are being built, thought I respect your feeling. Its different than what the Valley was, but to me they are beautiful additions to what for me is architectural art and they make the Napa Valley even more lovely. I'd rather see those structures versus sagging barns with deferred maintenance.

      My complaints as a local is with the traffic that has now made a 20 mile commute from St Helena to Napa in the afternoon into an hour long ordeal on many days and even worse when there is an accident. That has to be addresses with road improvement, light-rail, tele-commuting, relocation of admin offices to Napa, and lower priced housing up valley. I'm probably missing some of the obvious solutions.

  8. Napa County has a well-established slow-growth community dating back to the agricultural preservation law, yet that hasn't stopped growth in wineries to 500. Public backlash seems normal. If the sentiment were anti-wine industry, that would be a significant change.

  9. Thanks for the comments Blake.

    Its a fair distinction: anti-wine industry versus NIMBYism, and anti-wine industry versus anti-tourism (tourism=the lifeblood of direct sales).

    Obviously the region wont ever be anti-wine industry because too many make their living off the business. The votes won't ever fall that way. But from a practical perspective, if because of public backlash a moratorium were passed, or if visitation as a policy became more restrictive, it really doesn't matter if its anti-wine industry or just NIMBYism.

  10. I was born in California and have lived in Sonoma County for over 60 years. The wine industry wasn't much to write home about until the 1970's because of The Tasting in Paris and Robert Mondavi. People began to move here to purchase land to pursue their dream and passion of fine wine and great food. They loved the perceived lifestyle. Some of these folks were very wealthy and others not.

    The view a lot of folks have/had was the farmer in overalls and straw hat. As this business grew so did the make up of vineyard and winery owners. Yes, corporations did come into play but still family farmers and family wineries make up the larger portion. I hear all the time about apple farming vs vineyards. It's ironic that apple farms pollute a lot more (copper and other heavy metal sprays) than vineyards (water soluble sulfur). Apple farming does not create jobs where the wine industry does. Artists design labels, websites created, packaging, transportation, barrel making, storage, sales, cellar workers, vineyard crews, etc. Could there be a wee bit of jealousy? We have a small family winery. We love the land, have a passion for making fine wines, and we are not wealthy by any standard. We work hard to make our business successful and we are truly grateful for everything we have. And like most of the wineries we give back to our communities by donating wine for non-profit fundraising events.

    People travel through Europe to the famous wine regions and marvel at the vineyards. Here we chastise the "corporate farmer" for a monoculture. Really folks. Take a few deep breaths.

    1. Forrest - I appreciate the wisdom of someone who's been around to see the change in the business. I agree with your sentiments and have nothing to add except my thanks for sharing.

  11. This is wine country. If they don't like wine, wineries or tourists, they should have chosen to live in Barstow. People who don't like the sound of the ocean shouldn't live by the sea.

    1. Thanks Anon 9:11 -
      While I understand the sentiment since I make my living in the wine business too - I also live in the wine community and recognize there are reasonable boundaries that can be crossed in supporting unmitigated winery development.

      On the other hand, activist anti-change advocates also cross reasonable boundaries. Land owners have a right to develop their properties, even if it impacts a land owner who was "there first."

      When one lives in an area with undeveloped land, there is no absolute right to maintain that persons view of other's undeveloped property (it's not their property), or stop development because it will increase traffic and noise.

      Its the extremes on the debate that get the press but the solutions are in the middle because to your point, the wine business is a tourist business. It comes with the territory. There are mitigations to traffic and noise that are better discussed versus "I'm here so lets close the gates now."

  12. Our wealth lies in agriculture, NOT in tourism and entertainment. This is not us versus them. WE vintners, grapegrowers, tourists and residents have every interest in preserving the core value of our valleys: agriculture. Recent short-sighted projects have turned from supporting agriculture and farming to entertainment and party facilities. Over the long-term, if our focus becomes visitors and direct sales (a tourism focused industry instead of agriculturally based), WE risk jeopardizing what makes us worthy of their attention: our focus on the land, the preservation of our limited resources and good wine.

    1. James- thanks again for your thoughtful posts.

      From my perspective, the Ag Preserve has done what was intended. Napa doesn't suffer from urban sprawl. We can still see hillsides and our river isn't polluted with heavy metals.

      Personally I see no practical way to separate vineyards from wineries, and no way to make a winery successful without allowing direct sales and entertainment to support the sense of place and authenticity that is Napa. Take away the source of revenue, and you take away the demand for agriculture/grapes.

      Our focus can't be visitors and direct sales, but our focus has to include visitors and direct sales so as to find the right balance of growth and development. If we do that, we will retain the reason people want to come and visit the Napa Valley.

  13. That is very interesting. Wineries near me are constantly popular to wine lovers, so to read that is really a different perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Opposition due to "When is enough enough?" has some validity given we've gone from fewer than two dozen wineries to more than 500 in three decades. Also, not disimilar from "Your right to swing your fist stops at my nose," many residents are weary of yet one more winery joining the fray because almost inevtiably, the newcomer makes big promises for permits then realizes they aren't selling their 5,000 case production. The response typically is to insist on quadrupling "marketing events" and hosting bridezilla parties, weddings, etc.. Opposition is quickly labeled as being anti wine. Wineries are devolving into special event or party sites and expect the community to tolerate it. Bluntly, if the marketplace is supposed to be the deciding factor, then these people need to have better business plans from day one, other than counting on converting their properties to tourism sites instead of focusing on winemaking. Interesting new producers will always be welcome. As James Henry noted, our value is in vineyards and wine, not limos and buses.

  15. Michael - I read your frustration but not sure your perspective resonates.

    I find few wineries willing to take on weddings - bridezilla or otherwise. As noted elsewhere, it takes a fair amount of money to start even modest wineries in Napa so its less likely to find a financially desperate owner willing to host a party that has few potential clients.

    The Napa Valley's value/wealth is due to wineries selling great wine. The wine is made from great grapes but you can't have one without the other. That's a fact. Most wineries produce less than 5k cases and those have to sell direct because wholesalers wont sell their production. Suggesting those wineries sell without having direct contact with their clients will lead to outcomes that neither winery owners, grape growers, or locals with jobs and homes will like.

  16. I think it could reasonable to fashion rules to promote small wineries who self produce and sell directly, the modern equivalent to the roadside produce stands of yesteryear...
    But what needs to be acknowledged is that the large corporate operations are doing most of the business in Napa & Sonoma, not the locals trying to sell their "homegrown" product...
    The small operator up the street is not your enemy, you should embrace them as a true local agricultural vendor....
    If you cut of the ability of small newcomers to open new small businesses, you guarantee that the value of existing operations will rise to the extent that ONLY large corporations can afford to play. Supply & Demand, right?
    Also, personally I find it offensive to dislike "tourists" with blanket statements about them being pesky (is this how you'd like to be treated on vacation?), if you wanted peace and quiet, why the heck would one move to Napa in the first place, it hasn't been quiet in decades....Jeesh.....

    1. Eric - thanks for your positioning and thoughts. I'll add another tangent thought. The really large wineries in Napa aren't really the tourist draw of the small ones, simply because of numbers and their 'by appointment' permits that have them reaching out to invite people to the valley.

      It’s the small wineries that are producing the best wines. Those are the ones that raise the bar for everyone and give the valley the reputation it’s now earned. Remove their ability to sell their product, and you risk reducing the quality level of production as grapes are blended into larger lots of wine.

      We can't stop tourism without risking a change in the quality of the wines produced, risking closing off the only avenue small producers have of getting their wine sold, and in so doing - reduce the economic viability of the area - its tax base from tourism, and negatively impacting job creation.

      It truly is a slippery slope for anyone to suggest we should be anti-tourist. In my mind, like you I believe we should be hospitable to out of town guests and help them enjoy their visits. They pay our freight. That said, we should also find ways to make sure we don't fall prey to success and let traffic overwhelm the roads and wineries. That would have a similar deleterious impact and is another form of being anti-tourist. We have to plan for their visits so they can enjoy their time here. At the same time, that kind of planning helps those of us who live here as well.

  17. I think Michael Rubin's comment gets it right. Earlier this year the citizens of St. Helena rejected changes to our Small Winery Ordinance with a referendum that reversed the City Council's approval of legislation that would have lessened protections in our town and allowed winery production facilities/ event centers into our residential neighborhoods. People here realized that not only would our way of life be disrupted by trucks, limos, tour buses ,noise, lights etc but ALSO the property anywhere near the facilities would be devalued because nobody would want to buy a house next to the facility. Through the referendum process the people said no. Many of those we signed our petitions were members of the established wine industry. It was actually a citizens group in Healdsburg that reached out to us and clued us into what was going on both at a city and county level. It's speculative development masked as the wine business, using event centers to create a blight that devalues property., the end game is a land grab. It's happening all over California wine areas and the citizens need to become aware . I urge everyone to get familiar with the referendum process, it's a tremendous tool that gives the power back to the voters. We are now organizing countywide in the Napa Valley and reaching out to Sonoma to do the same, citizen and neighborhood groups are coming together to make sure our voices are heard. I can be contacted at if you or your group would like to make contact. We felt we were the only ones complaining until the Healdsburg group reached out to us.
    Geoff Ellsworth

    1. Hmmmm, my guess is that this is same "Healdsburg Group" that sues developers then pays themselves (or their spouses) hundreds of thousands in legal fees as a settlement..
      In the end it doesn't change a thing, except possibly the living standard of the Lawyers involved.
      Nice work if you can get it.

  18. Rob: I just wanted to make the comment that you actually read the comments and comment on every one! Thank you, Michael Huhndorf

    1. Thanks for noticing. I do read every comment and try and help people with answers both here and on occasion outside for followup - whether its a banking question or not. I've always felt helping people eventually works out in a business return for me .... maybe not today but eventually. Thanks again.

  19. Anti-winery sentiment may be on the rise in Sonoma and Napa, but that is not the case everywhere. Santa Clara County has recognised the benefit that wine based agriculture provides for all.

    The newly adopted Santa Clara County Winery Ordinance gives to Bonded Wineries and Estate Vineyards certain rights needed to exists and thrive such as agricultural housing allowances, tasting room rights, and small wine-based event permits such as wine club functions.

    It's also interesting to note that most of the wineries in this county are located on hill property with soils that while good for growing grapes are otherwise unsuitable for just about any other crop. Many of these are also dry farmed. It's decidedly more environmentally friendly than the alternative which includes cattle, horses, and marijuana.

    1. Good to see the revival in Santa Clara County where we have both our Bank HQ's but also several clients.