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The solution to Napa Valley traffic? Not social media!

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Last Wednesday’s public meeting of the Napa County Planning Commission, as reported by the Napa Valley Register, sounds like a typical exercise in broad-based bureaucratic eye-glazing bureaucracy.

Everyone got to say his two cents, and the rest of the audience had to sit through it and listen, no matter how rambling or opaque the remarks were. That is the essence, and the curse, of participatory democracy.

The main topic, so far as I could discern it, was the impact of growing winery infrastructure on traffic. This is a perennial concern in Napa Valley and a legitimate one. If you’ve driven Highway 29 lately, you know how awful it can be. Gridlock, sometimes stretching from north of St. Helena all the way through American Canyon down to the 101 Freeway, is the norm. It’s why I advise visiting tourists to avoid Napa and stick to Sonoma County. No fun sitting in your car inhaling gas fumes.

I don’t know what the answer to the traffic is, but I don’t think it involves social media. And yet, there at the meeting was the ubiquitous Paul Mabray, singing the social media halleleujah chorus to a roomful of voters and county officials who must have wondered just who he was, and why he was there, lecturing them about “digital human beings” and the mean number of times per day the average winery posts on Twitter (2.2 times a day, in case you’re wondering), when what they were there to talk about was traffic.

I mean, social media is very glorious and wonderful, and we all are grateful it exists and can hardly remember what life was like before it did. But social media has not yet turned into a deus ex machina–a miraculous intervention that solves all problems, like those quack nostrum peddlers used to claim when they sold horse linament to naïve uneducated people looking for a cure for their cancers, arthritis and venereal diseases.

I cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, see the relevance of “engag[ing] potential customers on social media networks” to local traffic conditions, unless Paul was trying to make the point that the more people who are buying wine online, the fewer people will be actually visiting Napa Valley. But I don’t think that was his point. And even if it was, it was effectively rebutted by vintner Michael Honig, who stated the obvious truth that “People…come and see our valley. They…see our barrels. They…kick the dirt.” That’s how you get a lifetime customer, not through tweeting 80 times a day.

Once Paul had his say, it seems that things got back to the topic at hand. The problem of traffic is insoluble, short of draconian steps that wineries would oppose, tourists would hate and would probably be doomed to fail at any rate. (Back during the gas shortages of the 1970s, you could only fill up on certain days of the week, depending on the numbers on your license plate. Maybe they could drop a similar dictat on touring Napa.)

My own feeling for traffic in Napa is to widen Highway 29. Make it four lanes instead of two–and put a detour around St. Helena, or perhaps a bridge over it, so you don’t have to drive through it. If four lanes is too much, make it three lanes, and have the directions change the way they used to at the Caldecott Tunnel before there were four bores: Two westbound lanes, one eastbound for morning commute, then switch it for the evening rush.

Of course, an elevated freeway over Highway 29, with on- and off-ramps for the townships, is the ideal solution. But it’s probably too expensive, and I’m sure the enviros would object. They’re against everything that makes our lives more efficient.

  1. Oh, Steve, you’re like a drug. Every time I think I’m free you draw me back in. Well done, and I mean that seriously!

    “The main topic, so far as I could discern it.” Maybe a little journalistic endeavor would help you actually discern the real topics discussed… But we all know blogging isn’t for real writers: “The trouble with the quick and dirty style of blog writing is that all too often it seems pointless–mere observations or scattered impressions, thrown willy-nilly onto the page, with no organization or intellectual point of view worth the reader’s attention.”

    Well, a quick online search (it only took this lowly and destructive online publisher, blogger, or whatever you want to call me ;) 30 seconds to find) reveals the actual agenda for the meeting. Check it out: http://services.countyofnapa.org/AgendaNetDocs/Agendas/PlanningAgenda/9-4-2013/Agenda.pdf Turns out that the agenda item that Paul was speaking on was “WINE INDUSTRY TRENDS: DIRECT TO CONSUMER SALES PRESENTATION.” The commission requested informational presentations on wine industry trends. I think social media might fall under that umbrella. I’ll let Paul chime in on what was actually said and why VinTank is now working with the DoT and Elon Musk’s hyperloop…

  2. Social media in combinations with phone and email marketing may offer a viable way for wineries to increase their direct to consumer sales without increasing the traffic on Napa roads.

    There’s no doubt that inviting people to kick the dirt is the traditional way of making direct to consumer sales, but it is costly, not only for the wineries, but also for the surrounding community, so it does seem reasonable to explore the digital route to the consumer.

  3. Steve, Steve, Steve, we need to stop meeting like this. I was called in because part of the question about traffic is should we be expanding use permits so that wineries can make more sales (which impacts Napa traffic and ag protection) or are there alternative ways to increase sales and customer acquisition. I posit that we are not capitalizing on all the alternative opportunities to build our business – http://www.scribd.com/mobile/doc/165481055 which includes social media, e-commerce but especially DTC AND service beyond the tasting room experience. With 21 years of experience in the industry they felt that my opinion might be a seasoned and yet fresh perspective.

    Driving, so apologies about logic and grammar.

  4. Traffic in the Napa Valley is a serious issue yet road widening North from Yountville will likely not happen in my lifetime. (I recall 29 looked pretty much the same in 1966). Electric trains along the existing railbed would be a civilized alternative to get people to the valley, responsibly (just look at France). Michael Honig’s explanation points to the reason why people become loyal to a brand in the first place. It happens after actually visiting a place, meeting the people, learning the story and tasting the wine. The proper use of social media allows those relationships to grow after the guest leaves.

    To Kim’s thought that having customers come to kick dirt is costly for the winery as well as the community doesn’t consider the impact of cash flow from tasting room sales, hotel and restaurant business. DTC success grows out of those formative experiences. I wonder if Paul can point to any organic successes where SM created a viable sales channel for wine independent of any other influences, or experiences.

  5. I’m not sure what the answer is, but it’s worth pointing out that road widening usually just leads to increased traffic.

  6. Generating more traffic does not mean just uploading a banner and logo on your facebook page. Social media can be an incredible source of traffic. There are many paper that back this. With the righ plan your small business “winery” can use social media effectively. A simple marketing plan that outlines all the important pieces combined with a comprehensive content strategy. But the best advantages of Social media is that it represents a low-cost way for companies to engage customers in two-way dialogue and develop deeper relationships.Relationships are a benefit that is difficult to achieve with other marketing channels. Wine is a product where people have lot’s of questions about tasting, vineyard, etc. Wine is on top of that a very social lubricant that needs support of social media. It goes even beyond generating traffic. Social media is also an extraz customer service and that is many times overlooked by many agencies treating social media marketing as primarily about reach and brand awareness, rather than cultivating customer relationships. The best users (winelovers) understand that social media is a conversation, not a monologue. So if you interact and treat them like ‘friends’ they will consume your products and recommend it with friends. So listen, listen and you will succeed. So, unless the winery really integrate the social media as a seperate channel, winelovers s would not see the real value across the vineyard!

  7. Anon O. Mouse says:

    How about we convert that idiotic Wine Train into a legitimate light rail system. If my taxes are going to support the thing at least it could be used for commuters. I would gladly take it to and from Napa to St. Helena as opposed to driving my car.

  8. Prospective visitors should be incented to visit on Mondays and Tuesdays, so as to shift the load. The inverse to this approach is to tax the visitor usage of the valleys’ resources proportionate to its capacity to handle those visitors. The latter being less palatable, the valley still needs an environmentally sensible approach to capacity management.

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