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When wine shapes politics, and culture

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San Luis Obispo County, on California’s sprawlingly beautiful Central Coast, long has been dominated by its biggest city, San Luis Obispo. But the county’s demographics have been changing quickly in recent years as the population surges north. The Pacific Coast Business Times is reporting that the Atascadero-Templeton-Paso Robles corridor is exploding in growth. The combined three cities’ population is likely to overcome San Luis Obispo’s at current projections, and may even result in “the wholesale shift in county offices from San Luis Obsipo” to Paso Robles.

The reason for this shift: “the tourism and wine industry boom in North San Luis Obispo County [which] will have a very long-term impact on the political scene.”

I’ve watched the explosive growth in Paso Robles for years, as new wineries and vineyards — and tourist amenities — have gone in. No doubt some locals object to this “gentrification.” Paso Robles’ cowboy culture still thrives, but not like it used to. But I think most residents like the new Paso Robles just fine.

Having an active, attractive wine industry is one of the best things that can happen to a California region. A few days ago, the Associated Press reported that The number of visitors to California wineries has nearly doubled from about 11 million in 1998 to almost 20 million in 2006, the latest year for which statistics are available from the Wine Institute, a trade group. Wine tourism contributed $2 billion to the California economy in 2006, up from $1.2 billion in 1998, according to the organization.

For municipalities hard-hit by the economic slump, who are loathe to raise taxes or fees, having a healthy wine tourist infrastructure is a godsend. What’s happening in Paso Robles has been repeated many times before in history. Western civilization always has followed the vineyard. Western Europe’s great river valleys were planted to grapes by Greek and Roman settlers; cities followed, and then entire nations.

Today, I’ll be going to the Wine Bloggers Conference, where I’m co-moderating a seminar on credibility. If anything interesting happens there — and it probably will — I’ll blog about it next week.

  1. You have a point about the cyclic nature of things. Paso Robles and Templeton were once railroad hubs for the cattle industry. The AVA is diverse and each spot and sub-area is beautiful in its own way.
    With all the growth, it’s still hard to get a hotel room or a table in a restaurant when a big event comes to town.
    My fear is that the coming economic retraction will stall the growth of much needed tourism infrastructure.

  2. Being a SLO native, you knew you could always count on two things: the Central Valley getting warm and we always had the beach! That fueled tourism for decades before the wine industry became the big attraction.

    Last time I checked, the weather doesn’t react to the economy and as long as the Central Coast is a short drive for millions of Californians and the area is a relative value compared to other things to do in big cities…we’ll survive!

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