Thursday, October 6, 2016

An imperfect score

                                     Bunny Foo Foo (really)                                         

    Craig and Kathryn Hall are about to publish a semi-promotional book called A Perfect Score (“The art, soul, and business of a 21st-century winery”). Some of their fellow writers at Center Street Books, an imprint of mega-Hachette, are Newt Gingrich and Paul Rand, which gives you some idea of the modus operandi, which includes vanity publishing.
   This offering to reviewers is so light-weight you have to tie it to the toilet handle to prevent it drifting away, starting with the revelation that the 3,000-pound chrome monster rabbit outside HALL Winery is officially named Bunny Foo Foo and was made in China.
   The collective husband-wife scribes go on to tell us that, “despite homegrown political complications" - meaning citizens making their voices heard - "we love it here. What’s not to love about a region with an eclectic group of farmers, winemakers, marketers, business folks, artists, and more, all joined together by the appreciation of fine wine, and of living and working in this beautiful place? Oh, and awesome weather.”
Weekends begin when they “jump in the convertible with our two little Cavalier King Charles spaniels, and head toward our favorite trail-head… By the time we reach the outskirts of Calistoga at 8:30 or 9 a.m., they’re ready to romp. The four of us hit the trail. As we wind our way up the hill and look south, the Valley stretches out in front of us like a sprawling vine. We keep climbing and before long we’re so deep into the forest that we can no longer hear the sounds from the Valley or see anything but pines, laurels, and oaks, their branches intertwined and draped in vines. What a fantastic way to start the day!”
Apparently they don’t hike at Walt Ranch in eastern Napa, where close to 30,000 trees are slated for removal. “Our latest experience with trying to plant vineyards on a Napa piece of property we own is a good example of this bitter division and the difficulty in finding balance. In 2005 we bought a 2,300-acre parcel of land zoned for agricultural use called the Miranda Leonard Ranch [now Walt Ranch] , a stunning property with some views that actually extend 50 miles to the Golden Gate Bridge. We hoped that the vineyard potential would match its beauty.”
    But “because part of the parcel on which we wanted to plant vines was at a grade above 5 percent, we were required to do an Erosion Control Plan (ECP). The property is also large, so an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was mandated.” These, “it turns out, are complex documents written by experts hired by the county and paid for by the landowner. The purpose of these documents is to analyze the property in order to ensure that the overall project will not adversely affect the environment. At the time, California guidelines specified that EIRs should take one year. Naively we didn’t think that would be a big deal. As we write this ten years later, the county in its role as reviewing agency has yet to complete the final EIR.
    “We knew from the start that water would be an important issue. That didn’t seem like it would be a problem when two water experts reported that we had one of the best water areas in the Valley, with a minimum of 1.4 billion gallons of water—and much more likely 3.6 billion gallons—under our property. Our erosion control plans were similarly positive. It turned out that the development would actually help the quality of the city’s water, which is downright uncommon.”
    Incredible, in fact.
    “Nevertheless, our neighbors were decidedly displeased…At the Napa County planning director’s public meeting on November 24, 2014, tensions had rocketed to an all-time high. The hearing room overflowed with 80 to 100 people, many holding HALT WALT placards and wearing HALT WALT buttons. In July of that same year, the draft EIR, all 1,500 pages, had been released and groups quickly formed to oppose the project. Although no public meeting on a vineyard had ever been held, a decision was made to hold one about Walt Ranch.”
    The county had asked Craig Hall to speak. “He could have saved his breath… Tensions were high. One man came up to where Kathryn was sitting and leaned down real close. ‘You’re the devil,’ he announced… The next morning, a dead bunny appeared in the entrance of our St. Helena winery.”
    As the Halls see it, the core questions dividing the valley are “how do we preserve the natural beauty…, support the industry that supports Napa, manage tourism, and continue to sustain good jobs and infrastructure for our community? And can the Agricultural Preserve that the county adopted in 1968 be sustained in Napa Valley given the fact that wineries now increasingly want to sell direct to consumer, which means being tourist oriented?”
    They thus make the assumption that "event centers" are necessary, which is far from true. The hopeful solutions” suggested are woefully inadequate and unrealistic, and they seem unaware that the Ag Preserve and the Ag Watershed are  quite different things, the latter being the most vulnerable to their own development plans.
    “Like it or not, Napa Valley is a magnet that draws people to her. So the question we really need to be asking is, How do we grow in a way that honors the Valley’s beauty and agriculture? This overly rigid protection of the Ag Preserve and agricultural zoning against any development—including agricultural cultivation, which is exactly what the Ag Preserve was designed to protect—invites litigation that ultimately could lead to the elimination of the Ag Preserve altogether. The truth is that by not allowing people to actually do agriculture in the Ag Preserve, extremists are putting the Ag Preserve in peril.”
    The fact is that no one is trying to prevent agriculture in the agricultural preserve, whose greatest enemy is tourism. That and real estate development have indeed put everything in peril, with the exception, of course, of Bunny Foo Foo.
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