The Caymus Letter
Bill Hocker | May 24, 2017

3 days prior to the Mountain Peak appeal hearing before the Board of Supervisors, Chuck Wagner, of Caymus Vineyards, sent this letter to the Board offering his encouragement to deny the appeals. Considering the very slim chance that the appeals would be upheld it was probably an unnecessary gesture, but it represented a chance to perpetuate yet again (see here) a canard that has become widespread among development interests: that a small vocal group of residents was out to kill the wine industry.

As was stated in this response to Rex Stults' similar statement, nothing could be further from the truth. And the truth needs to be reiterated here: residents that oppose these projects are not against the "wine" industry; they are against the non-agricultural urban development that the wine industry is adopting to increase profits from the much more lucrative tourism and real estate industries. The development of wineries as tourism venues and of vineyards as part of housing estates have major impacts on residents and on the county infrastructure way beyond the practice of crop raising and processing.

If tourism and estate development is claimed necessary to the survival of the wine industry we need to see the facts to back up that claim. Many vintners, some of the best in fact, seem to survive in the high end wine business with little or no visitation at all. What percentage of total Napa winery revenues are attributable to at-winery sales, and is that percentage worth the impacts of urbanization, diminished quality of life and high costs resulting from tourism and real estate speculation that the Ag Preserve, Measure J and the WDO were originally intended to counter.

There are many people in the county who are concerned about the changing nature of the wine industry, and the impact of that change on the rural character of the county and the quality of their lives, and that have no interest in "taking down the wine industry". They recognize that the wine industry, built by resident vintners and growers that valued not only the success of their industry but the preservation of their rural communities, has always had the respect of the other rural residents that benefit from the maintenance of a rural environment and small town life that was its product.

But the industry, as the industry itself constantly mentions, is changing. And the nature of that change is toxic to residents who treasure the bucholic pleasure of an agricultural economy. It is difficult to know whether the wine industry is becoming, or is just acting as a cover for, the tourism, entertainment, real estate and consturction interests that are beginning to engulf us all with development. Traffic is only a symptom of a development boom that is filling the vineyards with buildings and parking lots, and clearcutting hillsides for estates, resorts and more vineyards to replace those paved over on the valley floor, and for the tourism conversion of the municipalities that eliminates affordable housing, local businesses and decimates the sense of small-town community life. And for the mining of parklands to build it all.

In a previous generation the wine industry fought the urbanizing trajectory that those industries represent. Urbanization is the death of agriculture. One is left to wonder why now, after 40 some years of the wine industry being the defender of a rural environment, it is now up to the residents, against all odds including the bullying of the wine industry, to try to save the rural environment which an agricultural economy needs to exist.

A couple of years ago, the Napa Valley Vintners launched a PR campaign dubbed Our Napa Valley, casting the urban impacts as solvable with more transport infrastructure and more housing, i.e. more development. Until the wine industry returns to the notion that curbing development is in its own best long-term interest, as well as the interest of all citizens concerned about preserving the rural character of this place, resident anger against the industry and the government that continues to do its bidding will only increase.



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