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Drunk driving, Sonoma vineyards and rain, rain, rain!

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The holiday season is an apt time to remember, and remind people, that drinking and driving is a really bad mix.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that one-third of the 32,719 people who died in traffic accidents in the U.S. in 2013 were involved in drunk driving crashes, although the number has gone down by 36% over the last 23 years. Still, 10,076 deaths due to drunk driving is unacceptable. This is why I highly recommend that people formulate a plan for a designated driver, not just on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but every time you drink. And I commend Total Wine & More for supporting such programs.

I have not drunk and driven for fourteen years. It began on a dark and stormy night in the year 2000. Beaulieu was celebrating their 100th birthday with a massive nighttime tasting at the winery, in Rutherford. We went through every vintage ever made of André Tchelistcheff’s masterpiece, the Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon—some 62 wines in all, plus a bunch of older Pinot Noirs and other wines. I’d booked a room at the Embassy Suites, in Napa, for the night, but that’s about an 18-mile drive on Highway 29, which had no street lights for most of the distance. Our tasting let out shortly after midnight. I remember walking out to the parking lot when, all of a sudden, the sky rumbled in a crash of thunder, and rain began falling. Within moments it had turned into a torrent, a full-blown gale out of the Gulf of Alaska. It was raining so hard that I couldn’t see a thing, even with the windshield wipers turned on high.

Scary stuff. I couldn’t see where the median strip was, couldn’t see the road shoulders, couldn’t see anything. And I was technically well over the limit, I’m sure. I made a deal with myself: If I can just make it back to Embassy Suites safe, sound and unarrested, I will never drink and drive again.

Well, I did make it back to the hotel, and have stayed true to my vow ever since. It’s made my professional life a little more complicated, but what is that compared to the nightmare of being involved in a drunk driving incident?

So please, my friends, watch yourselves this holiday season.

* * *

Great opinion piece in this weekend’s Press-Democrat by the executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, Tim Tesconi, who argues that Sonoma’s vineyards—far from being the plague that some anti-vineyard types claim they are—actually “saved Sonoma County agriculture.” And in the process, prevented Sonoma County from being “the next San Jose.”

He meant no disrespect to our friends in San Jose, of course, only to imply that the wine industry has kept Sonoma County from being developed into housing tracts, shopping malls and industrial parks.

A grand toast to the vineyards preserving Sonoma County’s farming heritage,” Tesconi writes. I will happily lift my glass to that!

* * *

If you live in Northern California, you know that this December has been wet. Very wet. Santa Rosa, in the Russian River Valley, has seen nearly 13 inches this month alone. Compare that to 0.48 inches in December last year. Angwin, up above Napa Valley in the Vaca Mountains, has had almost 20 inches this month, about equal to San Francisco’s total annual rainfall. These are astonishing numbers. But “California still needs 11 trillion gallons of water to end its drought. Even with two weeks that saw inches of rain break local and daily records,” reports the website thinkprogress.com, “more than 77 percent of the state is in ‘extreme drought.’”

Back tomorrow…

  1. See . . .

    Excerpt from The Napa Valley Register “On Wine” Section
    (April 20, 2008):

    “How Napa’s Ag Preserve Beat the Odds, and Saved the Valley”

    Link: http://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/how-napa-s-ag-preserve-beat-the-odds-and-saved/article_579b4f2f-2315-52c9-97ba-53711aa1d063.html

    By L. Pierce Carson
    Register Staff Writer

    “County fathers knew in 1967 they had to do something.

    “They’d seen farmland in other parts of California paved over for a burgeoning population, including once productive fertile orchards in Santa Clara Valley.”

    — AND —

    Excerpt for the Napa Valley Register “On Wine” Section
    (February 27, 2012):

    “Oral Histories Tell the Story of the Ag Preserve”

    Link: http://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/oral-histories-tell-the-story-of-the-ag-preserve/article_fe2341e4-60fb-11e1-adf5-001871e3ce6c.html

    By Sasha Paulsen
    Staff Writer

    “In part because of the Ag Preserve, vineyards, not houses, have replaced most of the orchards and pastures that existed in the early 1960s and wineries have mushroomed from a handful in 1963 to more than 400 today.

    “The Ag Preserve was pushed by a group of residents who, concerned that the Napa Valley could vanish into a metropolis of high-rises and highways, set out to restrict urbanization of the county’s farmlands. County supervisors put the Ag Preserve into law in 1968.”

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