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.

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