Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Scourge of Tourism Circa 1972


  1. There is a book by Hirschner called Exit, Voice and Loyalty which examines the three choices people have when confronted with bad times or situations. Having tried Loyalty since 1964, then Voice since 1995, I finally chose Exit. Hirschner states that those that care the most leave first -- I guess too painful. The concept that most locals don't mind tourism doesn't pass the logic test because uncounted are the people who have left, the exit poll. The real estate market is now a buyers market, restaurants are struggling, St. Helena can't find locals to serve on City committees, 40% of the town is 2nd homes. Such indicators must be weighed also.

    1. Ex-pat. Thanks for the comments. Your perspective is valid. Places evolve and people relocate. I grew up in Concord, CA and it was farmland. Houses were built. People moved for opportunity.

      The information above is survey data from a reliable 3rd party so there's no detectable bias, and it's repeated in other regions with similar results.

      People that exited Napa over the years have done so for a variety of reasons versus being fed up as you imply, and when they did so, they did it with higher home values.

      Yes St Helena is a mess. I lived there for almost 20 years and saw first hand how their policies that insisted downtown be "local serving" led to its demise. Instead of embracing change and tourism as Yountville did, they fought change and now are are on the precipice of something catastrophic, and only now have they started to embrace occupancy tax from tourism as a source of their salvation.

      No question people have left there, but people have moved in too. People gave exited Napa for a variety of reasons, but more what to come and that's pushing up home values. Napa in its current state is a gem. Tourism is a part of what makes the valley and its towns tick economically.

  2. Thanks for your article. It really puts the entire wine industry in Napa and Sonoma in context. The upsides really outweight the downsides. But as you pointed out, Napa is just about maxed out for more plantings - or is it. I think of places in Europe where hillsides are planted from top to bottom. And there are a lot of hillsides in Napa (and Sonoma) that don't have vines on them yet.

    1. Ken - Thanks for weighing in.

      Important to the success of Napa has been the efforts aimed at protecting agriculture from unfettered residential development. Hillsides and oaks are protected through many regulations including a prohibition against planting on slopes greater than 30%.

      Hillside development today requires a full EIR which costs in excess of $100,000 and takes 2 years. So while we may see some planting in the hills, we are more likely to see more houses.

      In our zeal to protect the hills against the encroachment of vineyards, massive homes have instead been built and now dot the hillsides the length of the valley.

      Interesting that the Ag Preserve was put in place to protect against residential development and today the fight is over ag development while residential development continues cluttering the viewshed.

  3. Really interesting look at the past. Very useful to explain the present!

    I really enjoyed the uncensured point of view of Peter Mondavi Sr. He helped us remember that the so called "blessed past" was not so great after all. We tend to forget it quite often and very ... rapidly.

    I think tourism is now experiencing full scale globalization (as most of other human activities). As such, very popular places become somehow saturated and become specialized in one particular type of activity (Wine here).

    Anyway, change is hard for most people and the one that opposes changes tend to suffer the more.

    I am curious about the "next stage" of this evolution.

    As the land become unavailable for wine (taxes, laws, tourism adversed citizens, etc.) how will it evolve from there ?

    If I compare to France (Bordeaux or Bourgogne) where such rules are in place for a long time, it somehow increase the price of everything and tend to drive the locals that do not own or participate those activities in other less expensive regions.

    Do you think this is what will happens in Napa/Sonoma ?

    1. Benoit - very much appreciate you for offering your thoughts.

      It's an excellent question. What will Napa look like tomorrow? Relative to Bourdeaux there are similar dynamics. There is only so much land and what we have is what there will be. One exception: The SF Bay Area is a dynamic economy that drives California - which if I'm not mistaken is the #5 economy in the world if taken alone. Its proximity to Napa also influences home prices.

      What many miss is the increase in tourism in Napa and Sonoma has as much to do with Bay Area growth and people in electric cities just wanting to get away. It's hard to slow a freight train of growth from leaking into the North Bay.

      Sadly for many, the region will develop. The good news is in Napa because of the Ag Preserve and the efforts of Napa Land Trust, Napa will be priced different but even 40 years from now - it's going to look very similar.

      So while this

  4. I disagree that 60% would fail if you took away tasting room. they would merely be forced to do different marketing and work with a good distributor. The midsize and smaller distributors are the ones who lost a lot of ground to the tasting room. They might make a comeback if Napa n Sonoma and Santa Barbara were to squeeze down the tourism volumes.

    1. MAW - thank you as always for your thoughts. You have been devoted to this blog and I always appreciate your perspective.

      That said, your wrong! (haha. Couldn't resist. Kidding of course.)

      Your logic would work but misses one really important point: Small wineries don't want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on tasting rooms or developing alternative methods of selling their wine. In the 1990's when we were short on premium wine, the small wineries had no problem handing it all over to the distributors.

      I always thought with distributor consolidation that there would be small regional distributors picking up the slack but that hasn't happened for several reasons that I'll lay aside for now.

      The reality with winery owners is they want to grow grapes and make wine, but they don't want to sell it. Selling direct has been a godsend and is the only thing that has allowed the family owned winery to stay afloat. Without being able to sell direct, there would indeed be a massive withering of the numbers of wineries in the US.

      Thanks for being a good sport with my twisted response and sense of humor. I do appreciate your consistently weighing in with a good perspective worthy of discussion.

    2. If I say that you are right, does that mean I am no longer wrong?

      And a massive withering would suit some companies just fine. Won't name names but the big ones with lobbying money would love to python the DTC.

    3. MAW - when you are right you are right, especially the second paragraph. But heck - let's just agree you are right and tip a pint! Long day. haha

  5. Very interesting. My wife and I used to visit northern California wine country pretty regularly in the 1980's. While we did spend a little time in the Napa Valley, we wound up spending more and more time in Sonoma, as it was less crowded, the wineries were more interesting, and the tasting rooms were generally laid back and there was no charge for tasting. We haven't been there in about 25+ years, and I think I'd be shocked at the changes. Meanwhile, we started to visit France yearly, and 2 wine regions we rarely, if ever, visit are Bordeaux and Burgundy. They are probably the only 2 wine regions (with the possible exception of parts of Champagne) that are heavily touristed.

    1. Bob -
      Your comments are entirely valid. It's part of the conversation that I continue to push forward. You don't want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

      If we just accept unfettered growth without restraint and oversight, we aren't helping anyone. We don't need to approve every winery and just widen roads. We don't have to remove every tree and replace it with vines. We don't need to farm up to the edge of a stream bank. There is a balance that allows for the growth in the industry and the local economy, and still keeps the regions natural beauty intact.

      That said, there will always be those who want to return to 'the good old days' and don't care about the health of a business that is about as gentle on the environment as any I can think of. I'm grateful I don't live in a region that makes cement or smelts iron.


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