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Friday Fishwrap: tourism fights, Napa warming and Madonna!


Finding the right balance between tourism in wine country, while protecting the privacy of residents, is never easy, especially in California, where these things always tend to get politicized and people get passionate on both sides.

I remember the brouhaha over the Napa Valley Wine Train, the tasting room ordinances, the protesters in Knights Valley upset with the late Jess Jackson’s plans there, even the worries of the remote Anderson Valleyites that their rural back country is being developed too fast.

Now, down in the gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley, there’s another ruckus, this time concerning the plans of the Larner family to “develop a winery, convert a structure into a tasting room, and host a series of special events,” according to this article in the local paper. [Note: Monica Larner, a member of that family, is the Italian editor for Wine Enthusiast, and a good friend.]

I don’t see these issues as either/or propositions. Surely it’s possible to allow wineries to do a little expansion, while taking the fears of neighbors into consideration. Each side has to give a little to get a little. It’s the American way.

* * *

I’ve been arguing for years that Napa Valley is not getting warmer, nor is coastal California as a whole [“coastal” defined as about 40-50 miles from the shoreline and inland]. Actually, it’s getting colder. We just went through another bizarrely chilly, wet Spring and Summer in 2011, the seventh year in a row that threw vintners a curveball. So it’s puzzling to me to see yet another story on how Napa must learn to adapt to global warming, this one from NPR’s website on Nov. 3.

It quotes Andy Walker, probably the most respected viticultural scientist in California; he’s at U.C Davis. Prof. Walker doesn’t actually make the statement that Napa is warming up. That’s implied by the writer. He does mention varieties like Barbera and Nero d’Avola that could do well in a warmer climate, but I would suggest that Napa Valley is not the place to plant them, even if they were marketable, which they’re not. Napa Valley rolled the dice on Cabernet and Bordeaux reds, and it’s worked quite well, wouldn’t you agree? Don’t mess with success, as the old saying goes. Where I would look to plant these warmer climate varieties, as well as other southern Mediterranean varieties including the Port grapes, is in hot areas like Temecula, which have tried to compete, unsuccessfully, in the continental climate sweepstakes of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. They might as well try something different. Napa Valley will continue to produce some of the greatest Cabernets in the world for the rest of the 21st century (barring some unpredictable catastrophe). If I were growing grapes in Napa, I wouldn’t lose any sleep worrying about whether I should rebud the Tokalon Vineyard to Barbera.

* * *

Smirnoff’s Nightlife Exchange Project is a fascinating instance of how to run a wildly successful social media campaign to promote an alcoholic beverage. So successful, in fact, that you could use it as the poster child for what 99.9% of wineries will never be able to do, and hence of little informational use to them.

Yes, if you can hire Madonna as a collaborator, it’s easy to generate 1.8 billion online impressions across six continents. (Memo to Madonna: Will you help to promote If not, I’ll ask Lady Gaga. Beyonce already turned me down.) But I can’t agree with Michelle Klein, Smirnoff’s digital expert, that there’s a take home lesson in Smirnoff’s campaign for anyone besides big corporate companies like Smirnoff. She talks about “linking digital and physical engagement” as the “sweet spot for marketers.” Well, of course ordinary people are going to vie for the chance to dance with Madonna on her next tour! That’s their reward for being one of those “impressions.” But how is an ordinary winery supposed to link the digital experience with a physical engagement, in quite the same way? Says Klein of the campaign: “It’s about people…It’s the spirit of a team that loves to take risks that makes it happen…the magic comes from the content that the consumer generates.” What does that mean for the average winery, which barely has the time much less the budget to lure consumers to their websites, Facebook page or Twitter feed? If I’m running a family winery and want to jump more deeply into social media, I read Klein’s statement and go, “Duh! What the heck does that mean to me?” Take risks? Spirit? Magic? Forget the gobbletygook, just tell me what to do!

  1. Steve said: “Each side has to give a little to get a little. It’s the American way.” This idea has become a “Bad Romance” and the “Body of evidence” is the chaos everywhere from Oakland to DC, we now have a splintered culture of do or die; “will someone pour me another glass of Zaca Mesa Syrah”?

  2. Steve, yah I had to laugh when I read the story about Napa warming (talk about poor timing). Unfortunately, it may not be very funny at all to some of the vineyards that could not get their Cab ripe this year. I totally agree that is seems that the North Coast is getting cooler, we are in a area most people consider to be too warm for Cab and the like and we’re picking at ~23 brix this year. Last year we could not ripen one of our blocks? We’ve even made some nice Pinot in the last 3 vintages (now you’re probably laughing).

    Re: Michelle Klein Maybe she trying to say tie your online outreach to something that happens in the “real world” (physical world). Like this; submit videos about why your winery, vineyards, or region is unique and interesting (digital), and the prize is that Steve Heimoff comes for a visit (physical world)?

  3. Napa warming: Its plain dumb science. We can agree with the fact that its warmer in the US than 40 years ago. There is still some disagreement if that is episodic, or a trend – but for argument sake lets say global warming is settled science. Is there ANY science that can take that trend and forecast what temperatures will be like in one spot? Not even the weatherman is that great at predicting weather in changing conditions next week. The whole premise is laughable.

  4. hmmm… if developing a winery, converting a structure to a Tasting Room, and hosting a series of special events is “a little expansion” I wonder what you consider to be major development?

  5. bruce, I guess “a little expansion” is in the eye of the beholder.

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