Monday, April 30, 2018

Would a fourth Napa book have a happier ending?

Ask me after the June election.                                                                                       

                                       EVE'S WINE 101


    The book Napa at Last Light by James Conaway was very hard to read. Not because it was poorly written. Far from it. Mr. Conaway is an excellent writer, having authored thirteen books as well as having been published in numerous magazines. This book, subtitled “America’s Eden in an Age of Calamity”, is the most recent installment of what is called his Napa trilogy, which started with Napa: The Story of an American Eden and continued with The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley.
     So when I say it is hard to read, it is because the third volume, unlike a certain other famous trilogy, reads like “Sauron” is on his way to winning and that is sad.
    Not one to pull punches, Conaway writes about the large corporate interests as well as the millionaire vanity vintners who threaten to take over Napa Valley, using up its twin scarce resources of land and water in the search to produce the next high scoring Cabernet. Providing much detail about the political intrigue and machinations involved, he’s not afraid to name names either. [I’ll leave those for the reader to discover.]
    Personally, I wish he would have spent more time on people like Steve Matthiasson, who emerges in the book [to continue the analogy from above] as a possible real-life “Frodo Baggins”, or perhaps more aptly “Samwise Gamgee”. There are a few other heroes presented as well, probably most notably Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards.
    I’m not naïve enough to suggest that development is all bad and that money is the root of all evil. Personally, Napa is not our usual stomping ground, but in the wine regions that Karen and I frequent we’ve seen plenty of inroads from wealthy people who have caught the wine bug, as well as from corporate interests. We tend to favor the smaller wineries, some of which hang on by a shoestring. Yet, I’m not ashamed that some of our favorites are also from people who made their fortune in other walks of life and have the financial wherewithal to invest significantly in their winemaking operations.
     I also believe that for smaller wineries to be successful, Direct-To-Consumer sales are critical, versus giving away profits in multi-tier distribution systems. But, DTC usually requires visitors and visitor facilities use land. And the addition of event centers enables wineries to attract more visitors and generate more revenue. Commerce, ultimately, is the end goal in order to keep the winery operations going.
    But there is no denying the issues that Conaway discusses. Land and water are finite. Climate change is real. And there are certain political forces at various levels of government that are seeking to reduce environmental protections.
    Some people say that Mr. Conaway has gone too far. They say he only presents one side of the issues and doesn’t tell the whole story. Personally, I’m not qualified to judge. I do know that voices like James Conaway’s are important to keep the conversation going. And while this is referred to as the final volume of the Napa trilogy, I’m hoping for at least one more installment – with some good news.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Can a million dollars defeat common sense?

From the mouths of the ancients...
                           Napa Valley Vintners 


Subject: "No on C" Campaign Support
Date: April 20, 2018
Early this year, the NVV Board of Directors voted unanimously to oppose the Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018.  Now known as Measure C, this initiative will be decided upon by county voters in June.  Measure C further regulates our oak woodlands and expands river and stream setbacks within the Ag Watershed-zoned areas. 
Our history with this initiative is complicated, to say the least.  Over the course of the past year, the NVV Board engaged with Measure C sponsors to attempt to negotiate an outcome that would protect the environment while further supporting and promoting agriculture in the Napa Valley.  Unfortunately, this process did not result in an effective measure that fully achieved the stated goals. 
When the initiative was reviewed by NVV members and the industry organizations in the valley, there was strong opposition.  We held a town hall-style meeting in January to allow legal counsel for both the proponents and opponents to make their case, followed by member input there, and at a subsequent Community and Industry Issues Committee meeting.  Furthermore, NVV board members received numerous direct communications from members.  Most of the members that shared their viewpoints expressed opposition to the initiative.
The legal uncertainties that were raised, coupled with the vocal opposition within the membership and across the valley, led the NVV Board of Directors to vote unanimously to oppose Measure C.  Those concerns were subsequently validated by the County’s independent legal analysis of the initiative.
The Napa Valley Vintners has a long and proud history of continually working to protect our valley.  Our opposition is equally not a nod to support unbridled development within the valley.  As we have for nearly 75 years, the NVV continues its work to protect our local environment while supporting and enhancing sustainable grape growing and winemaking for generations to come.
We are acutely aware that a number of our members strongly support Measure C.  I believe profoundly that we all share the same values and care deeply for our environment.  However, the NVV Board believes that Measure C is not the proper vehicle to advance our common interests in protecting our valley. 
Consistent with that position, the NVV Board has voted to join other industry groups and support opposition activities for Measure C.  In a campaign that’s estimated to cost nearly one million dollars, the NVV will provide $200,000 in support.  Although we know there are members who do not support this action, the NVV Board is convinced that this support reflects membership opposition and is in line with our position on the initiative.  Although individual members and wineries may certainly continue to contribute to the campaign, no further financial contributions will be forthcoming from the NVV.
David Pearson, Chair
NVV Board of Director
       Note: The bulletin I've published above does not say what was the percentage of members in favor and those opposed. Apparently members weren't polled and only those calling in were counted. Since backing restraint in the watershed is now considered unacceptable by the NVVA's conservative board - some of whom have questionable environmental histories of their own - it's not surprising that some other vintners may have been reluctant to voice their approval of Measure C.
     Take a look at the members of the NVVA board and draw your own conclusions: David Pearson, chief executive officer of Opus One; vice-chair Robin Baggett, owner and managing partner of Alpha Omega; Delia Viader, owner of Viader Vineyards & Winery, secretary/treasurer; Jack Bittner, managing partner, Ovid Napa Valley; David R. Duncan, president and chief executive officer, Silver Oak & Twomey; Andy Erickson, vintner, Favia Erickson Winegrowers; Darioush Khaledi, proprietor, Darioush; Paul Leary, president, Blackbird Vineyards; Peter McCrea, proprietor, Stony Hill Vineyard; Pat Stotesbery, proprietor, Ladera Vineyards; and Emma Swain, chief executive officer, St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Valley of the Oligarchs?

From CounterPunch:

Napa County, California: the Clash of Oligarchy & Democracy


Photo by Jim G
“I’m afraid that Napa is becoming the Valley of the Oligarchs. If it can happen here, where people are reasonably intelligent it can happen anywhere.”
– St. Helena city councilman Geoff Ellsworth
Where does one go to glimpse the future? There have always been science fiction novels such as H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange World, as well as more recent films such as The Planet of the Apes. But what if you want to go to a real place on the planet to get a sense of where humanity is headed?
The preeminent California writer, Joan Didion, told me that for years when she wanted to see the future, she looked at Miami and New Orleans. She added that more recently she didn’t know where to focus her eyes and her critical intelligence, though she added, “To be a Californian means to be full of contradictions. I think it’s more contradictory than any other place in the country.”
The author, James Conaway, doesn’t argue that Napa County has more contradictions than any other place in California or the U.S. But he has written that Napa is the location where one can see what lies ahead for the nation. From his perspective, it’s in the very eye of the cultural and political storm that has been spreading across the U.S.
He’s written three non-fiction books about Napa. All of them describe the loss of an Eden and the corrupting power of money and privilege.
Initially, I was dubious of Conaway’s perspective. It’s true that after Disneyland, Napa is a major tourist destination and attraction, and yet it’s a small county. The population  today is about 150,000. It has 789-square miles.
But Napa is world-famous for wine and Napa wines go almost everywhere in the world.
The more I thought about Conaway’s idea, the less skeptical I became.
Recently, I went to Napa and looked at the place through his eyes. I had been there before, but merely as a tourist who ate in restaurants and drank wine in places like Tra Vigne and Bouchon, famous in the foodie world.
In some ways, my most recent trip to Napa felt like going back in time to the feudal past. After all, Napa has vineyard aristocrats in their mansions, and servants and serfs who work directly in the wine industry, or for it in one capacity or another.
From Conaway’s perspective, tourists are a big part of the Napa predicament. Indeed, hordes come by car and overrun the landscape. I saw them on my most recent foray into the dark heart of Napa, which is about thirty minutes away from where I live in Sonoma County, California.
Sonoma is much bigger geographically speaking than Napa, less developed commercially and without the glitz associated with its sister county, though its western edge on the Pacific Ocean gives it a distinctive flavor. Napa is landlocked. Only a tiny portion borders on San Pablo Bay at its southern-most tip.
I was the guest of two longtime Napa residents who don’t like the way the county has evolved— or devolved—over the past half-century. In their company I felt like a pilgrim in a lost Eden.
Geoff Ellsworth was raised in Napa by parents who for decades operated a business that sold equipment to the wine industry.
“My mother and father were living in Berkeley before I was born,” he told me. “They didn’t think it was a good place to raise children so they moved to Napa.”
Ellsworth grew up there just in time to witness a revolution that transformed the place from a sleepy backwater to a thriving economic powerhouse that attracted the super rich, as well as Latinos who have worked the land.
An accomplished artist and a councilman in St. Helena, one of the ritziest towns in the county, Ellsworth said he never thought he would see the kind of environmental destruction that he has seen in Napa for years and still sees everyday.
Indeed, if one wanted to view the impact of greed unleashed, the power of money and the corruption of the democratic process, Napa is as good a place as any to start.
“It’s beginning to look like clean water for everyone is revolutionary,” Ellsworth told me.
To see Napa raw and naked one has to get away from Main Street and downtown and venture in the hills and mountains where right now woods and trees are being harvested with little if any concern for wild life and endangered species. Then, the land is cleared with heavy machinery to make way for more vineyards.
With Ellsworth was Kellie Anderson who has lived in Napa County for 27 years and who worked for decades in the wine industry and for the county agricultural commissioner.
Feisty and fearless, she knows from her own professional experience, what the rules are, and how they’re routinely broken by the big corporations that have snapped up land, blasted rock with dynamite, privatized watersheds and polluted streams and creeks with harmful herbicides and chemicals.
“It’s total insanity what’s happening here,” Anderson told me. “No one enforces the laws and there’s a huge amount of intimidation and fear.”
Ellsworth added, “Word has gotten out that Napa is a place where no one pays attention to rules and so no one in the wine industry is afraid of breaking rules and lying, too. The newspapers have been co-opted.”
By car, we climbed into the mountains and stopped every half-mile so that Anderson could point to a vineyard or a plot of land where the rules had been broken. In some place, it was shocking. Creeks and streams had been buried under piles of earth and chemicals were stored in unsafe, hazardous locations.
Long-time residents have been forced from their homes to make way for more vineyards. Almost all of them are surrounded by high fences and stonewalls.
“A member of the citizens’ auxiliary police,” as she calls herself, Anderson raises a hue and cry at public meetings. She also lights a fire under Ellsworth in his role as councilman.
“I’m afraid that Napa is becoming the Valley of the Oligarchs,” Ellsworth told me. “If it can happen here where people are reasonably intelligent it can happen anywhere.”
The problems, Anderson went on to explain, are manifold.
“The vineyard owners and wine makers dispense funds to most of the civic groups and organizations and anytime anyone criticizes them they point to their philanthropic efforts,” she said. “Citizens are told that if the vineyards and the wineries are forced to adhere to environmental regulations people will lose their jobs, won’t be able to pay the rent or put food on the table and feed their children.”
Anderson added, “the women who work in PR for the wineries are some of the worst.”
Ellsworth listened carefully, and then told me that, “On the surface, the grape and wine industry seems much cleaner than the coal industry, but it, too, is very dirty and very responsible for deforestation and pollution of the environment.”
But all is not lost. Ellsworth, Anderson and hundreds of citizens have banded together to make what might be called a last stand against the oligarchs. Indeed, in the spirit of California democracy, they have drafted an initiative that’s on the ballot in Napa June 5.
“The Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018”—known as “C” —states that when enacted it will “protect the water quality of Napa County’s streams, watersheds, wetlands and forests and safeguard the public health, safety and welfare of the County’s residents.”
The anti-“C” forces managed to write false and misleading statements about “C” and then include them in the voter information pamphlet. But a lawyer and a vineyard owner with an unusual name, Yeoryios C. Apallas, filed a lawsuit, also in the spirit of California democracy.
The Napa County Superior Court ordered the removal of the false statements from the voter pamphlet.
Still, the ruling didn’t stop the proliferation of the “No” on “C” signs that insist that if successful the initiative will lead to higher taxes, the end of individual freedom and a loss of personal income.
“The same issues were around in the 1990s,” Anderson told me. “But back then almost no one paid attention. Now, we’re way beyond the tipping point and people are beginning to wake up and see what’s happening right here and right now.”
Ellsworth added, “The ‘No’ on ‘C’ forces have argued that if it’s successful the initiative will end comfortable life styles. Many people are not buying that view anymore.”
Indeed, it looks as though democracy will triumph on June 5.
“It’s a first step,” Ellsworth said. “The ‘Yes’ on ‘C’ campaign has educated the public and raised awareness about our most valuable resource: water.”
Author James Conaway doesn’t claim credit for the awakening of the citizenry, but his three Napa books, including the most recent, Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age if Calamity (Simon & Schuster), have played a key role and shown that in the age of the tweet, the book as a medium for information still has a vital role to play in civic life.
Joan Didion, who left her native California and moved to New York many years ago, would look at Napa today and see immense contradictions, not only between oligarchy and democracy, but also between the beauty of the land itself and the rapacity of an industry driven by greed.
Late on a hot, sunny Friday afternoon, I said goodbye to Ellsworth and Anderson, promised to return and went home a sober man. Indeed, we had not had a sip of wine in a place made world famous by wine.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Where's all the money coming from opposing conservation in Napa?

A reader sent the following letter to me and to the Napa Register:

Follow the Money
Can we be really clear on who is bank rolling the “No on C” campaign?
The “No on C” flier that was delivered to thousands of households through-out Napa County a few days ago was paid for by “No on Measure C, Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture – FPPC I.D. #1401241.” It is listed as a “Campaign Finance Committee” on the CA Secretary of State’s website. There are no names listed in association with the committee, but there is a phone number: (707)258-8668. This is the phone number of Michelle Benvenuto and the Wine Growers of Napa County. 
That’s not really much of a surprise.  But what is interesting is that after digging a little more, I found  the actual mission statement( the Wine Growers of Napa County,  as filed with the IRS when it received its tax exempt status in 1998: 
Please note the last part: “the protection of wineries and their ability to produce and market wine,” because that part of their mission statement is often left off of any more recent descriptions of the organization.
This is the description of the organization as listed on their IRS on Form 990 in 2014, 2015, and 2016 (all public records):
“To promote and defend grape growing and wine making as commercial enterprises in Napa County.”  
That’s pretty specific.  
There is no website for the Wine Growers of Napa County, though they belong to both the Napa and St. Helena Chambers of Commerce. However, you can read much more about this organization in James Conaway’s book, “The Far Side of Eden, New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley.”   Here is a short excerpt from page 183: 
“Consider the state of the valley, advise, bankroll, and wield a big stick, that would be the role of the new Wine Growers of Napa County--” 
If you dig a little more through public records you can find this: the president of the Wine Growers of Napa County as of December, 2016 was Chris Indelicato, who is also the president and CEO of Delicato Family Vineyards, which, according to an article that appeared in Napa Register, June 15, 2017 (“Delicato’s growing presence in the wine industry—and Napa Valley”) is the seventh largest wine company in America and the second largest wine company that has headquarters in Napa. 
Other “officers, trustees, and key employees” in the public record of Wine Growers of Napa Valley include Michelle Benvenuto, Dave Pina, Tony Leblanc, Rob Mondavi, Mike Reynolds, & Carolyn Wasem.
The most troubling thing about all of this is how much money the No on C coalition (whose phone number is shared by the Wine Growers of Napa County) is spending and how many dirty political tricks they are playing to try to convince the voters that Measure C, if passed, will do the very things most residents in Napa County are worried about most:  increasing traffic and the number of mega-mansions, tasting rooms, and event centers, especially when you consider that the original mission statement of the Wine Growers of Napa County is “to protect wineries and their ability to produce and market wine.” 
Do you really believe that the Wine Growers of Napa County will still be telling the voters that more event centers will lead to more traffic after this election?  Or do you think they’re doing their best to confuse and mislead you into voting against your best interest?
Make no mistake, the No on C effort appears to be bank-rolled by some very big money and big winery interests who have hired professional political operatives that are pulling out every dirty trick in the book, including push polls, a failed attempt to deceive the voters at the tax-payers expense, misleading billboards, and the very flawed and misleading mailers that went out last week. They are, just as James Conaway wrote, wielding a very “big stick,” in this case, money, influence, and intimidation. 
Do you really trust them to tell you how to vote?
Do you really think they have your best interests at heart? 
If you want to do a little digging on your own, ask your mayor or supervisor if they accepted any campaign contributions from the Wine Growers of Napa Valley.  
Follow the money.  
Please, don’t be fooled or confused by the dirty tricks. Vote Yes on Measure C.  It’s about protecting the watershed for the benefit of everyone that lives in Napa County.

Name withheld by request.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

"It's the long, crass journey from Eden to cash cow"

        The Buddhist koan asks: What is moo?
By  Bill Barsano, wine and spirits editor of Hemisphere
      James Conaway bids fair to be called the Boswell of Napa Valley, biographer-historian not only of Napa as one of the world’s great vineyards but of the people and powers who revere or rule it and, he greatly fears, will one day ruin it. Conaway began what must now be called his Napa Triptych with "Napa: The Story of an American Eden" in 1990 and followed it in 2002 with "The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley," both of which tracked the increasing commercialization of California’s demi-eden. He now concludes with “Last Light,” in which the battle again pits Big Money against Little People.
    The former, as is customary, think immense wealth entitles them to do whatever they want and will not hesitate to beat you to death with lawyers to make the point. The latter--preservationists, conservationists, ecologists and advocates of neighborly small-town life—vainly hope for laws to be upheld and the public respected. Fat chance. The issue comes down to this: ordinary folk want to retain the decades-old legal definition of a winery (i.e., a place where wine is made) and powerful interests want to expand it into a plunderland of intensive commercial development for anything and everything to do with profiting from wine. They want more tasting rooms, more tourists, more restaurants, more motels (including a dog motel), more “event spaces” and more facilities for selling direct to the consumer, which is ever so much more profitable than shipping the stuff all over the country through innumerable distributors and retailers, each of whom takes his cut.
    The Little People were worried about more noise and traffic, increased pollution, water supply and purity, deforestation and heaps of building waste from the construction of hillside “ranchettes” where city people can pretend to be a part of the very quality of life they’re destroying. Conaway is clearly on the side of Small, no question, but he’s too honest to load the dice; in any event he doesn’t need to. All those lawyers and vintners and developers and trade associations, aided and abetted by compliant and/or spineless public officials make the issues clear and the outcome inevitable.
    After all, we’re talking about a place where only a few years ago arrogance reached such a pitch that one of the leading industry titans tried to change the name of Black Mountain to reflect the name of the vineyard he owned on its slopes.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Sonoma shares Napa's concerns, majorly



James Conaway, Chronicler of Napa Valley, Takes Aim at Napa Vintners
By Bill Swindell 
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | April 1, 2018

    James Conaway is angry.
    Author and journalist, Conaway has been the foremost chronicler of Napa Valley for more than three decades. His Napa: The Story of an American Eden in 1990 told of the early pioneers who turned a family farming community in the valley into the premier wine region of the United States.
    He followed that book with The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley in 2002 that covered how new investors were changing the valley with their emerging focus on tourism and marketing higher-priced cult wines to consumers.
     His new book does not hide his current feelings for Napa Valley. Napa at Last Light: America's Eden in an Age of Calamity takes aim at the investors and big companies, which he contends have transformed the area with crass commercialism that has overridden the quality of life and harmed the environment.
    As he visited the region on a book tour last month, Conaway noted that he received a chilly reception from many in Napa County’s wine community, though he was embraced by citizens and activists who share his view.
    “The establishment has never really cared for me. Now they are trying to undermine me,” said Conaway, 76, who started out as the wine writer at the Washington Post and is the author of 13 books. “People have finally woken up. They are paying attention this.”
    Press Democrat Staff Writer Bill Swindell recently interviewed Conaway to get his thoughts on the local wine industry, the backlash against wine tourism, and what the future holds for the environment. The transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity:

    Napa Valley has always attracted rich people as investors. Was there a particular tipping point for you that was critical?

    "Back when Heublein Inc. bought Inglenook Winery in 1969, I guess that was the first corporate shock for the valley. It’s true there have always been wealthy people in Napa and they would often come to their ranches on the weekend. It’s an order of magnitude that’s greater than that now. There are so many wealthier people and they have so much money and less knowledge and interest in agriculture and grapes than the wealthy people before — that’s my impression. It was kind of a participatory investment in the early days. Inglenook founder Gustave Niebaum didn’t make wine, but knew a lot about it. He had his own standards and knew what he wanted. Today, depending on how much money you have, you can sort of obtain everything for you."

    You contend many of these people are not actually vintners, and don’t know the essentials for winemaking or growing grapes?

    "These guys do tend to know that sort of stuff. It provides conversational opportunities for them. They may be intimately involved in the promotions side, but they aren’t doing the work. It’s questionable about how much they actually know. Large amounts of money changes all parameters really. There is so much of it now. Vineyards have become real estate deals as much as they have become opportunities to put in a vineyard. If you have a vineyard permit, you can flip it and you can make a lot of money. The thing is there is not endless resources. And doing this up in the hills really has an impact on the water supply."

    What about the role the media plays, especially the constant focus on such exclusive brands as Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate that can sell for thousands of dollars per bottle?

    "Wine writers ought to be tougher than they are. Not so much on the wines, but on the operations. I think readers are increasingly interested in that.     Wine journalists need to work a lot harder. Not just talking about mouthfeels and soft tannins, but what is behind the operations."

    What about the focus on cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley, given that the varietal brings higher profits than other styles? Is that part of the problem?

    "A lot of the new money doesn’t need to get the return. One of the problems is they don’t want to get the return. They just want it for the cachet. They can never make enough just by selling the wine to put in the cost of a $20 million winery — in most cases. If they flip it to an Asian investor that’s different. A lot of them are more concerned with ratings and the opinions of their wine. The problem is once they have those, then they start looking around for ways to expand. Often that expansion includes real estate. Vineyard land is much scarcer in Napa County. The last major expansion is the Walt Ranch project, which would open up 209 acres of new vineyards between city of Napa and Lake Berryessa. But that battle is still being fought in the courts even though it was first proposed more than 10 years ago.
    "That is really the message. Napa doesn’t have endless resources — meaning land to plant new vineyards. Putting them in the hillside destroys many of the trees and messes up the absorption of rainwater. You get runoff and foul streams."

    Environmentalists have put forward a June 5 measure that would curtail new vineyard development in Napa County by providing greater protection to watersheds and oak woodlands. Do you view that as a hopeful sign?

    "This initiative that has been put forward in Napa is really kind of modest. There is a lot of complaining. It will eventually preserve oak trees. But it’s not like Napa doesn’t have a lot of vineyards already. Symbolically, however, it’s very important. It’s the case of the majority really wanting something, but being thwarted by the minority in cahoots with the county government."

    How powerful is the wine industry in Napa County?

    "The wine industry is quite spoiled in Napa. They resent people, the proletariat pushing up this initiative that many people in the valley want. But they don’t want it. There is a bit hubris in their reaction. How much better would it have been for the Napa Valley Vintners (the industry’s top trade group) to side with the initiative? From a public relations side, it would have been the right thing to do. I also think it would have satisfied a lot more of their members than the big boys want to admit. They would have profited by it. They are very nervous about this for reasons that remain undisclosed."

    Would wineries benefit from a cap on the number of vineyards because it would limit competition?

    "It’s the corporate way in America — grow or die. That might have fit at one time. But it doesn’t fit today with all the resources disappearing. Drought is coming back. Grow and die is more like it. Grow and sell out is what a lot of these operations are thinking about. Instead of getting involved in agriculture, you are getting involved in branding. You can make a lot of money in the short term until people find out what you have done."

    What are your notable examples of wineries that sold out to bigger investors and lost their luster?

    "Beaulieu Vineyard. Beringer Vineyards. Robert Mondavi Winery. It’s an inevitable progression if you adhere to the corporate mantra of “grow or die” and make as much money as you can four times a year. Forget about long-term decisions. How do corporations make money? They cut down on the raw price on what goes into their product, and continue to sell it as if it was their old self. In fact, it isn’t. It’s a shell."

    But why should wine be immune to business pressures of other products?

    "Business is supposed to be good for the citizens of America. It’s not just supposed to be good just for corporations, the CEOs and stockholders. This whole notion we are talking about is very instructive of community. They will say, “We are job creators” and all that stuff. The bigger point is the quality of life, especially when you are cutting down the trees and subverting the definition of agriculture so you can build more real estate within the Napa County Agricultural Preserve. It’s destructive of communities. It’s destructive of the environment."

    Climate change will likely play a major role in coming years. What is the local wine industry doing to plan for such a scenario?

    "The wine people that we are talking about, they don’t like to talk about that. They will have to make some hard decisions, and they have to look at things realistically. A lot of them don’t even want to admit that climate change is taking place. It’s put them in an untenable position on what is dictated by the politics of the issue. I think it’s clear that they are in a losing game. It’s short-term thinking."

    What about Sonoma County?

    "The subtitle is 'America’s Eden in an Age of Calamity.' I just don’t mean Napa County. Sonoma County is in the age of calamity too. Sonoma is about twice the size of Napa. It still has mixed agriculture, which is a blessing. People who live there should be grateful for that because that’s gone in Napa. It’s a more comfortable physical environment now for people coming through here in Sonoma County. People do have to get involved early on this issue. There are plenty of voices out there now and organizations out there to help. You need to speak out and get in with others quickly."

    The cannabis business has essentially been shut out in Napa County. What’s your take on the crop?

    It brings in a whole different clientele. Tourism in Napa is really important to everybody. Cannabis brings a different kind of tourist. It’s not a good kind of farming. It uses more water. I know some people do it a different way. But it is a little hypocritical of the vintners and growers in Napa to complain about cannabis. It’s a plant. What right do they have to nip this in the bud, so to speak?"

    Are there people in the wine business you still admire?

    "Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards in Angwin is one. There are some younger examples. Steve Matthiasson of Matthiasson Wines in Napa. He’s kind of famous. There are plenty of little guys. The problem is the little guys make the best wine and they are vulnerable to the big guys. It’s the old Standard Oil thing."

    What should Napa County and the rest of the region do to address some of these problems?

    "The only answer is to stop creating new enterprises that are ancillary to wine; that is bringing in new people with activities that have nothing to do with agriculture. Tourism is what I am talking about. Tourism has never saved anything. It’s destroyed many things. Tourism devours what it loves."